August 23, 1997
They are now a team made over, nearly nipped and tucked beyond recognition. The New Celtics still wear green-and-white uniforms, but that wardrobe is among the few links to last season's 15-67 crew. Rick Pitino and Chris Wallace believe they have made more than surface changes to the Celtics. They think most of the guys coming in are upgrades over the ones who have gone away.
So yesterday the surgery continued. The Celtics signed forward Chris Mills from the Cavaliers and guard Tyus Edney from the Kings while waving goodbye to Eric Williams. Under M.L. Carr, the 25-year-old Williams was touted as one of the forwards of the future. Now he is a forward of the Rocky Mountains after being dealt to Denver Thursday night for two second-round draft picks, in 1999 and 2001. Losing a 15-point scorer for a couple of second-rounders doesn't seem like a fair return, but Wallace explained that the picks are only a portion of the trade.
With the new players, the Celtics now have 13 contracts guaranteed for next season. That means another trade could happen soon, although Wallace said yesterday that the chances are slim anything will take place in the next couple of weeks. For now, the Celtics are counting on Mills, Billups, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, and Travis Knight to be their core players. Los Angeles native Mills, 27, is the old man of the probable starting lineup.
Wallace was asked why he and Pitino thought Mills was a better fit than Williams.
"Chris gives us a much better long-distance shooter than Williams," Wallace said. "Statistically, he's a better rebounder. We're impressed with his defense and durability."
They also believe he will play better in a faster-paced offense as opposed to the trickle-down offense the Cavaliers have used the past three seasons.
One thing the Celtics won't have to worry about with Mills is his workmanship. He once played 223 straight minutes, including every minute of a double-overtime game. During one offseason, he decided to work out with Michael Jordan and returned to Cleveland with a flawless physique. And while he was in Los Angeles on breaks from the University of Arizona, he would answer the morning basketball calls of Magic Johnson. The former Lakers star would rent a gym and invite NBA and college stars to play in pickup games. It was during those informal sessions, Mills once said, that he learned the value of being on time. Johnson would tell the players when he wanted them to be on the court. Once, Hakeem Olajuwon showed up late. Johnson told him he would have to sit out a while because he wasn't on time.
None of that will disappoint Pitino, who hasn't taken an extended break from basketball since his May hiring.
"Coach Pitino is extremely comfortable with durable players," Wallace said.
Once again, durability had something to do with the signing of Edney, the small guard known for his winning shot for UCLA against Missouri in the 1995 NCAA tournament. The Celtics wanted a proven point guard backing up Billups. They also wanted someone who can quickly advance the ball upcourt.
Now, less than two months before training camp, it appears all the Celtics have to do is play and see what happens. Only five players remain from the worst season in franchise history. That number may be reduced in the next eight weeks, adding further to the Merrimac Facelift.
"Essentially, we traded Eric Williams for Chris Mills and Tyus Edney," the general manager said.
Wallace and Pitino reasoned that the Celtics wouldn't have been able to pick up both players if a salary was not cleared from the roster. When the salary cap was raised last week, the Celtics had more money than they anticipated. So they traded Williams, who will be a free agent after next season if the Nuggets don't sign him to a new deal in the next six weeks. And they signed Mills to a contract that is believed to be worth at least $ 26.1 million over six years, an average of $ 4.35 million annually. Mills, who completed his fourth season with the Cavaliers, made $ 1.2 million last year. Edney, who will be married today and promptly leave for Hawaii, was signed to back up Chauncey Billups.