Chris Mills Happy Going to a Contender


October 23, 1997

Chris Mills now realizes what everyone else in New England knew this summer: Rick Pitino moves fast. There was the July afternoon he eliminated nine players from his roster in a few seconds. And there was yesterday, when he traded his

priciest free agent, Mills, after the 6-foot-6-inch forward spent exactly eight weeks as a Celtic.

Last night Mills spent most of his time packing for a short plane ride to New York City. That's because the man who signed a seven-year, $ 33.6 million contract with the Celtics Aug. 22 is now a Knick. Mills to New York, which had been

rumored early yesterday, became reality late in the afternoon when Pitino dealt him and two future second-round draft picks to the Knicks for forwards Walter McCarty, Dontae Jones, and John Thomas and guard Scott Brooks.

McCarty and Jones were lounging like fans last night, watching the Celtics-Knicks exhibition game from the comfy FleetCenter seats. But don't get used to seeing journeyman point guard Brooks in green and white. The Celtics plan to waive

him soon. He was included in the deal because the Celtics needed his salary for the trade to go through. The principals, for the Celtics, are McCarty and Jones.

"Jones is the X factor," Pitino said. "He could be a great player for us. Or he could be a bust. I know he single-handedly busted our tails when he was at Mississippi State."

In the reconfigured team locker room, one-quarter of the Celtics can say they participated in a few Kentucky-Mississippi State games. McCarty, Ron Mercer, and Antoine Walker played for Pitino at Kentucky. Jones opposed them for one

season. If he plans to play now, his new coach says, the man the Knicks nicknamed Sugar Bear will have to get in better shape. He missed all of last season with a leg injury (Pitino says he is fully recovered) and did not play in two

exhibition games this season for personal reasons. He won't be eligible to play in Game 1, either, because of his role in Game 5 of last season's Knicks-Heat melee.

With McCarty, the Celtics receive a 6-10, 230-pound forward-center who can run the floor just as easily as he can play the piano and sing your favorite song.

"We've had our eye on Walter McCarty for some time," Pitino said. He added that the Knicks would miss the big man, someone who is always "on" and brings boundless energy to the court.

Of course, there is The Question: Why did the Celtics trade Mills?

"I was kind of shocked," Mills said last night. "Rick told me that a trade could go down and he wanted to know how I felt about it."

Pitino told Mills that if he wasn't comfortable with the deal, he would tell Knick general manager Ernie Grunfeld it was off. But Mills liked the idea of playing with a contender "and a first-class organization" and accepted the switch.

The Knicks, favorites to win the Atlantic Division, now plan to use Mills as a backup to Larry Johnson. Ironically, the Knicks wanted another ex-Celtic - Rick Fox - to fill that role.

A five-year veteran, Mills said he didn't take the trade personally. "I've been around long enough to know that this is just business," he said. His teammates know it, too. None seemed shocked by the quick-dealing Pitino, who said he

consulted with head scout Leo Papile before calling New York with a proposal.

"I think he's already shown that he's not afraid to make a deal," cocaptain Dee Brown said. "You should have seen that when he first got here. He got rid of nine guys in one day. That's kind of like a trade."

So now Mills becomes the second Celtic small forward to be traded in eight weeks (Eric Williams was the first). And the Celtics are easily the youngest team in the NBA. McCarty is 23, Jones and Thomas 22. The oldest Celtics are Dana

Barros, Tony Massenburg, and Pervis Ellison, all 30. Brown will be 29 next month. Everyone else is 26 or younger. The newly acquired trio represented the youthful wing of the veteran Knicks, but they were excited by the possibility of

acquiring Mills.

"Mills is just hitting his prime," Grunfeld said. "He makes us two deep at every position. We are as deep as any team in the league. He's a very clutch player. Chris is more accustomed to a 'patterned' offense. This is a good trade for

both teams."

It is a good trade for Boston, Pitino said, because it also allows the team salary cap flexibility. The remaining contract years on the players the Celtics received: one, one, one, and two. And one of those contracts, Brooks's, will be

irrelevant to the Celtics in a couple of days.

Boston's new guys watched last night's game from the stands. "This is a dream come true," Jones said of the deal. "I needed the change. It's more of a free-lance style. I can't wait to play the Knicks four times a year."

Former Pitino forward-center McCarty was excited as well. "I love this trade," said the Kentucky alumnus. "I can't wait to get back to playing Coach P's style. I'm familiar with what he wants, what he expects, what's expected of you."

Pitino said that of all his players at Kentucky, McCarty picked up his system the fastest. Part of the reason is McCarty's four-year stay in Lexington, Ky. The coach joked that if the forward doesn't remember the Celtics' system, he'll

"kick his butt."

He won't have to worry about confrontations with McCarty.

"I love Coach Pitino," he said last night. "I'll pick him over playing in the big city New York every time."

McCarty said he can play three positions - shooting guard and both forward spots. He's quick (he was on his high school's track team in Evansville, Ind.) and he's good with his hands (he taught himself to play keyboard five years ago).

One thing he hasn't done is talk with his ex-Kentucky teammates lately.

"Not at all," he said, smiling. But he'll catch up with them this morning in Waltham.

One problem is that the deal creates a glut of players in camp. Officially, there are 17 men on the roster. Five of them will have to go in the next eight days.

"We're going to make some moves soon," Pitino said.

Considering Pitino's recent record, that statement speaks for itself.

No comments:

Follow by Email