August 22, 1997
Celtics trade Williams, eye Mills
Eric Williams, deemed untradeable less than two months ago, is now a former member of the Boston Celtics. His seat on the bench won't be vacant for long. Sources last night indicated the Celtics were zeroing in on free agent forward Chris Mills of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Mills, who turns 28 in January, just completed his fourth season with the Cavaliers and averaged 12.3 points a game in Mike Fratello's breakdown-lane offense. Mills has 3-point range, is an excellent free throw shooter, is extremely durable, and could have been a Celtic four years ago. Instead, the club took Acie Earl.
Williams is headed to the Denver Nuggets for two second-round draft picks, in 1999 and 2001. By making the move, the Celtics cleared an additional $ 1.14 million in salary, giving them about $ 3.5 million in cap space. If they start with that figure and go out the normal 20 percent over seven years, the deal could be worth almost $ 40 million. Mills earned $ 1.235 million last year, the last of his original deal when he was the 22d player selected in the 1993 NBA draft.
Boston general manager Chris Wallace said last night that the Williams deal was strictly to free up cap room. "We're positioning ourselves," he said. "This is a cap deal. Just stay tuned."
Asked about trading Williams, who was supposedly the small forward of the future, Wallace said, "He was a part of the future. There are just some things out there that we felt we needed to do, and we don't have a great deal of options regarding trades. We felt we had to make a deal quick."
Williams's name has been mentioned in many trade rumors, but the Celtics always had said he was not going anywhere. On draft night, coach and president Rick Pitino said he had several chances to deal Williams but refused to do so because he felt the 6-foot-7-inch small forward was worth keeping. Now Williams is a Nugget.
"Any time you get traded, there's always going to be a certain shock factor," said Williams's agent, Mark Bartlestein. "I think Eric is going to be a star in this league. The Celtics have to do what they think is right, but personally, I think they got the short end of the deal."
Williams would have been a free agent next summer. Last season he averaged 15 points a game while leading the Celtics in free throws made and attempted. On two occasions, he was hospitalized to determine if he had heart trouble; on both occasions, he was cleared. He appeared in 72 games, starting 67.
With Williams and Rick Fox both gone, the Celtics needed to address the small forward issue, and Mills and Portland's Cliff Robinson were the two most viable candidates. Also available is Chris Dudley, a center, but at age 32, he is supposedly disinclined to join a rebuilding team.
Mills has been in the playoffs in each of his four years in Cleveland. And coming from Fratello's system, he knows how to play defense in a team concept. He also was Cleveland's No. 2 rebounder, hauling in 6.2 a game.
Offensive numbers mean little when discussing the Cavs. The team averaged 87.5 points a game, fewest in the NBA, but Mills was their No. 2 scorer, behind All-Star Terrell Brandon. Mills shot 45 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the line.
In four years, he has missed only nine games and, in one stretch during the 1995-96 season, played 223 consecutive minutes. Last year he averaged 39.6 minutes a game, and only six players spent more time on the floor than his 3,167 minutes.
Mills would be the second key free agent lost by the Cavaliers. Charlotte recently signed guard Bobby Phills to a long-term deal.
In an irony, Mills would be playing for a coach he inadvertently helped to install at the University of Kentucky. Mills played a year at Kentucky under Eddie Sutton, but his recruitment by the school and the infamous Emery Air Freight scandal led to his transfer to Arizona, the dismissal of Sutton, and the hiring of Pitino, then with the Knicks.
The two draft picks the Celtics are receiving are incidental. The 1999 pick belongs to Orlando and was acquired by Denver in a trade. The 2001 pick is Denver's own.