Billups, Mercer in fold

September 9, 1997

Now that all of their players are signed, the Celtics have one question to answer: Who will be the one to go?

Someone in green probably will have to relocate. NBA rosters can accommodate 12 players, but the Celtics have 13 signed to guaranteed contracts. Barring a repeat of last season's they-all-fall-down American Medical Association Special, the Celtics will have to trim a guaranteed contract from the roster.

As expected, two deals were finalized yesterday when rookies Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer agreed to three-year contracts. Billups, picked third overall in the draft, will receive $ 7.3 million, as determined by the league's rookie wage scale. Mercer, selected sixth, is slotted at $ 6 million.

Training camp is less than a month away, which makes the "whom to move?" case more interesting. The options are these:

- They can trade a player for picks, as they did in the Eric Williams deal.

- They can flat-out waive a player and eat the contract. Their only hope in that case would be another team claiming the player and, in effect, the salary.

- They can put a player on the injured list until a better plan arises.

You can be sure that the backcourt of the future will be in place for the 1997-98 season. It's also likely that Antoine Walker, Travis Knight, Andrew DeClercq, and Chris Mills will be members of the Celtics on Oct. 31, when the team opens its season against the Bulls.

Word is that the Celtics burned up the phone lines last month trying to shop Dana Barros. And Pervis Ellison, who has three years remaining on his contract, hasn't exactly thrilled the new coaching staff (although the Celtics would have to pay him $ 7.26 million if they cut him and would receive no salary-cap relief for the move). Neither Dee Brown nor Greg Minor can be moved easily, with three and four years remaining on their respective contracts.

Who will go? The Celtics have seven weeks to answer the question.
Yet another example of the great things height can do for you in the NBA: When Joe Kleine signed with the Bulls last week, he won a two-man fight for the right to be a member of the five-time champions. The other center in contention for the job? Alton Lister. The 38-year-old Lister was the oldest Celtic last season and was renounced when Knight was signed in July.

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