The Travis Knight Era Begins

July 6, 1997

Apparently, the Celtics have solved their center problems. It was a $ 22 million solution. According to yesterday's Los Angeles Times, the Celtics have agreed to a seven-year contract with 7-foot free agent Travis Knight.

Knight, who will be 23 when training camp begins, is no stranger to the area; he spent his collegiate career at the University of Connecticut. But the former Lakers backup is unfamiliar with the dollar amounts that now appear on his contract. This time last season, the Chicago Bulls - the team that drafted him with the 29th pick in 1996 - were trying to convince him to work on his game in Europe. He declined and was signed by the Lakers for $ 220,000.

The Lakers liked Knight, who averaged 16.3 minutes, 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds last season. The team was elated that the thin center was able to work his way from 12th man to a valuable backup at center and power forward. But the Lakers could only offer him just over $ 300,000 for next season. A native southern Californian, Knight said he wanted to stay in the area. He and his agent, Arn Tellem, could not resist when the Celtics came waving a multimillion dollar contract with an "out" clause after three seasons.

Knight acknowledged to the Times that he was indeed moving on to Boston. However, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said last night that, to his knowledge, the Celtics did not have any deal in place with Knight. Usually, he said, a free agent comes to town, tours the team's facilities and then comes to an agreement. Twiss said that did not happen with Knight.

"I've talked to our general manager Chris Wallace, and if he has anything to say, he'll say it tonight or Monday," Twiss said. The team begins a rookie-free agent camp this evening at Brandeis.

Team president and coach Rick Pitino did not return phone calls from the Globe yesterday, nor did Wallace.

However, in an interview with WBZ Radio yesterday, Wallace did say the team had spoken with Knight's representatives and revealed, "Knight impressed us. He's definitely someone who can play Rick Pitino-type basketball."

To make room for Knight, the Celtics will have to renounce a few of their free agents (they have nine). Pitino already has said he will renounce guard Todd Day, who made $ 2.9 million last season. The team's other, relatively high-salaried free agents are center Frank Brickowski (who made $ 1.7 million last season) and forward Rick Fox ($ 1.75 million).

Last month, there were rumblings at the final predraft camp in Chicago that Knight would command a large contract. It was then that he and his agent made it clear that they were not interested in signing a short-term, $ 1 million contract. Supposedly, the Celtics were not the only team in the market for Knight. There were at least two other offers that would have paid Knight more than $ 2 million per season.

But, many scouts and general managers were surprised to learn that the Celtics paid such a high price for Knight. He was a bit player for most of November and December. He started 14 games when Shaquille O'Neal was hurt and played in 71 games. He shot 51 percent from the field and was second to O'Neal in rebounds per minute.

Efforts to reach Knight for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. Knight told the Times that it was hard for him to leave Lakers executive vice president Jerry West and general manager Mitch Kupchak.

"I really have mixed emotions," he told the newspaper. "I should be elated right now, but I'm not. I feel so much loyalty to the Lakers. I respect Jerry and Mitch so much and I understand what they say and believe what they say.

"But you work at something as hard as you can, and then it's there. The security. That's the rest of my life, right there."

The addition of Knight may not guarantee that the Celtics will be significantly better than last season, but it does ensure that they will have a different look. At least three-fifths of their starting lineup could be altered with Knight at center and rookies Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer in the backcourt. Before Knight's signing, Pervis Ellison was the only center under contract.

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