Wednesday, December 17, 2003
'Toine dances to new tune
By Marc Stein
Editor's note: Every Wednesday, senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on the league in "Slams and Dunks."
Wednesday night should be one of the better spectacles of the season. Antoine Walker is an entertainer, a rise-to-the-occasion guy, and this will be the first time 'Toine plays in Boston wearing no trace of green in his uniform.
Sadly, though, we can already guarantee that the evening won't be as saucy as it could be.
That's because there will be no shimmy.
No matter how many triples he hits, no matter if the Dallas Mavericks win in anything resembling a runaway, 'Toine says we will not see his famed wiggle. Under any circumstances.
He actually says we will never see it again.
We asked three times and got the same answer.
"Nah. Nah. Nah."
"I'm done," Walker said. "Yeah, I'm done."
Here at Stein Line HQ, this is sad news. Even though it runs counter to all my usual purist tendencies, I've always liked Walker's antics for some weird reason. Maybe it's because Mark Jackson was my favorite player in high school, and MJax had an airplane celebration and a shimmy. Guess I'm still too much of a kid, because shimmies always crack me up.
Walker, though, has retired the wiggle at the request of his new coach, Don Nelson, who is also an old Celtic. Nellie might love point forwards and unorthodox lineups and pushing to the edges of every rule in the rulebook ... but he doesn't tolerate any sort of showmanship.
"Coach don't want me to do it anymore," Walker said the other night, "so I'm not going do it anymore."
Here's hoping the moment overcomes him on this night.
Something else you needn't look for from Walker: Any sort of greeting for Ainge.
"I don't think it's necessary for me to talk to Danny," Walker said. "We'll probably never talk ever again, and it's not because of the trade. It's just that we never had a relationship, and a lot of people don't understand that. There's never been a relationship established between us."
Surely by now you've heard about Walker's blasts last week, when he called Ainge "a snake" and suggested that Ainge dispatched him to Dallas "to set my career back a little bit."
Let's just say, given time to reflect on that position, Walker has backed off a bit, realizing that Ainge couldn't have sent him to a better situation. To a coach who, wiggle aside, loves Walker's quirks. Walker should be grateful for where Ainge sent him, and it sounds as though he's arrived at the same conclusion.
"I'm estatic," said Walker, who leads Dallas in rebounding and ranks second on the team in scoring, assist and minutes. "It's like this is the best thing that could have happened for me."
Walker, for the record, likes Ainge's latest trade. Paul Pierce is still Walker's buddy, and 'Toine isn't shy about saying Pierce could use the scoring help Ricky Davis theoretically provides.
Us, too. We like the trade from a Boston perspective for a couple of reasons.
The main reason, as stated Monday, is that there's a better chance Davis can handle playing second fiddle to an unquestioned franchise player like Pierce as compared to caddying for an 18-year-old kid.
The other reason: Ainge's aggressiveness is refreshing.
No matter how loud the protests are in Boston, and no matter where they come from -- from fans or even coach Jim O'Brien -- Ainge is doing what he believes is right. Which is the only way to run a team. He is a lot more realistic about his roster than most of the Celtic e-mailers we hear from, who believe that the C's made the East finals in 2002 because they had such a fine squad.
Perhaps it has been so long that Bostonians have forgotten what a real title contender looks like, but the 2001-02 Celtics didn't qualify. Remember: Boston got to the East finals that year largely because, well, look at what the East is now. It's the Everybody Has A Chance conference, because there isn't anything resembling a legit title contender.
That's why Ainge has to do what he believes is right. That means trading Walker for Raef LaFrentz mostly because he feared Walker's forthcoming contract demands. That also means jumping on the opportunity to acquire Davis, who, for all his warts, has a very reasonable contract in relation to his skills. These are two big ifs, but if the Celtics can get LaFrentz healthy and get Davis to support Pierce, the core of this team looks better than it did in the spring of 2002.
The story in October, as we heard it, is that the Celtics' new owners felt some 11th-hour hesitation to move Walker. That's when, according to sources, Ainge went to his bosses and told them that if he's their man to run this team, they can't stand in his way. They have to let him make the big decisions.
Until his decision-making is repeatedly proven wrong, Ainge was absolutely right.
OK, OK, OK. Enough about 'Toine and the Celtics.
Here's a rant: Why is it so tough, in these retro times, to find a vintage Bernard King jersey?
Am I doing something wrong?
Because Bernard was my other favorite player from high school.
The movement for players of all ages to go back to reporting for training camp at the same time has been gathering steam since our report here last Wednesday that an announcement is expected during All-Star Weekend. Yet it's clear that veterans do want a little extra time off somewhere on the schedule in exchange for making the first round of the playoffs a best-of-seven deal.
The most sensible solution? Let's make the All-Star break wrapped around All-Star Weekend longer. Training camp is too important to skimp on because there is more practice time in October than there is during the next six months combined. But if the league went on siesta for a whole week in February, everyone would get some rest, including the All-Stars themselves.
Which might help lure some of the big names back to the dunk contest. Which would be another welcome development.
Nothing in the NBA is quite as startling as hearing that Allen Iverson is going to miss some extended time. Hearing that Tuesday night literally froze me. It was a heck of a lot more surprising, at least to me, than hearing that Rasheed Wallace just made some really inappopriate and misinformed statements.
Any kind of lingering pain for Iverson has to be very scary for the Sixers ... and for pundits like me who said there was no reason to worry about AI's durability when he signed that long-term contract extension in the summer, based on the premise he has always been one of a kind and thus shouldn't be judged by the usual standards applied to small, quick guards.
A couple addendums to Friday's compilation of the toughest and easiest jobs in the NBA:
Dick Versace was a strong contender on the easiest list, as the Memphis Grizzlies' GM. Not a lot to do in that role since Jerry West came in as the Grizzlies' president.
Even easier, of course, is the arrangement enjoyed by Ozzie and Dan Silna. They're the brothers who have collected some $100 million in TV severance payments as part of the settlement stemming from the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. When the Silnas' St. Louis Spirits were not absorbed by the NBA in the merger, they were guaranteed one-seventh of future TV revenues from the then-owners of the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs. IN PERPETUITY. Those two words are now famous in basketball lore.
A late nomination for toughest job, meanwhile, came from a witty Laker rival: "Whoever has to check the birth certificates for entrance to Jerry Buss' box at the Staples Center." A sly reference, of course, to the youthful female company the Lakers' owner keeps.
|Antoine Walker only wiggles his shoulders now while shaking and baking with the ball.|
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.