Will the Glove be on Hand for Red's 87th Birthday?


Whither GP?

While all but a couple of Celtics have gathered in Waltham for pre-training camp workouts and scrimmages, Gary Payton is still out West. According to his agent, Payton is working out in Las Vegas - the perfect city for a 24/7 guy like Payton - and has been in contact with Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

   Will Payton be there when camp opens Oct. 5? One would have to make that assumption, given that Payton is on the books for $5.4 million this season. That's a lot to sacrifice - and the next guy who does will be the first one. Nonetheless, agent Aaron Goodwin would offer only the following: "We should have a solution in the next week or so."

The Celtics are clearly expecting a Payton sighting. "We're optimistic that he'll be there," Danny Ainge said Friday. Asked if he'd heard anything more definitive, Ainge said, "No."

Added Goodwin, "Gary knows the opportunities in front of him."

Translated: Payton knows he didn't have a great 2003-04 season and would like to recover in 2004-05. That's certainly what the Celtics are hoping. Rivers has pointed out time and again that the complicated, share-the-wealth triangle offense in Los Angeles did not mesh with Payton's game (idle thought: then why did he go there?), and that the Celtics' style, whatever it turns out to be, will be better.

My concern with Payton is how his personality, which can be dominating to say the least, will affect the rest of the team. On the surface, it's hard to see how this is a good fit, given Payton's age (36), his play (not what it once was), and his well-known desire to get a ring (not happening here next season). The last thing Rivers wants or needs is an unhappy Payton on his team, especially when there are no other veterans to call him out or calm him down. What, you think Ricky Davis is going to be that guy?

"I totally disagree with that. I think it's an excellent fit," Goodwin said. "Anywhere Gary has gone, he has given 150 percent. And while he may have lost something, he still can post up any point guard in the league. He'll also be helped by having a good player [Paul Pierce] at the [shooting guard position]."

The thinking that Payton will be ultra-determined to repair his image and revamp his game works - to a point. He may well want to. But how much "game" does he have left? He didn't opt out of his contract because he knew he'd get nowhere near $5.4 million on the open market. When Phil Jackson doesn't trust him in the fourth quarter of big games - relying instead on Derek Fisher - that should tell you something.

He's also in a contract year, which can be both a good and bad thing. He will want to put up numbers, which can be both a good and bad thing. He will be the de facto senior spokesman on a team with five players who have a year or less of NBA experience. It's six if you count Jiri Welsch, who essentially was a rookie last year. Seven if you count second-rounder Justin Reed. Eight if you count free agent Ernest Brown.

Ainge is not averse to taking risks, and he has taken a big one here. The last time the Celtics brought in an aging, Norma Desmondish All-Star was 10 years ago. Dominique Wilkins arrived, and he was the only person left on the planet who thought he was still an All-Star. A year later, Wilkins was in Greece. Don't expect Ainge to wait that long if the Payton situation doesn't work out. He knows as well as anyone that there's always room at some NBA inn for a player with an expiring contract.

Whistlestop ahead?

Things have taken a turn in the league's negotiations with the referees on a new collective bargaining agreement. Russ Granik, the NBA's deputy commissioner, told Bloomberg News Friday that unless a new deal is reached in a week, the league will be forced to go with replacement referees. "In that case, be ready for Athens in America," said the referees' lead negotiator, Lamell McMorris. "You're going to see the same type of refereeing that we saw in Athens. Maybe Tim Duncan should step in and end this thing." The two sides are apart on raises - big surprise - but McMorris said he was equally displeased by what he called "last minute" clauses the NBA introduced. One would penalize referees $50,000 individually and the union $1 million as a whole for any "disruptions" along the line of what happened last year, when the refs wore their jerseys inside-out to protest disciplinary action against Michael Henderson. "That's excessive. That's punitive. There's no other way to look at it," McMorris said. "These are not players. They are workers." McMorris said the NBA also wants the referees to waive their individual rights in terms of responsibility for anything that happens during games. "We felt we had made significant progress," McMorris said. "Now, we have to wonder just how serious the league is, if they're interested in dealing fairly with us. It also says something that neither Russ Granik or David Stern has been to the bargaining table." . . . We noted last week that Memphis forward Pau Gasol was looking for an agent after splitting with Mark Termini, who had represented the Spanish star the last two seasons. Gasol decided on Arn Tellem at SFX, which is a good thing for him because Tellem and Memphis president Jerry West are joined at the hip. Expect an extension before the Oct. 29 deadline. Gasol and Termini split after Termini was asked to lower his commission (by a significant amount) in return for keeping the relationship intact. Termini declined. It would appear that a similar, below-market deal had to have been hatched between Gasol and Tellem/SFX. In most cases, agents collect 4 percent of the player's salary. Gasol told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he thought such a percentage was excessive, even though he had such a deal with Termini.

Get the cake ready

Tomorrow is Red Auerbach's 87th birthday, and the Celtics are encouraging fans to send well wishes via the team's website (www.nba.com/celtics.) There are links on the site to send Auerbach a birthday greeting or even a picture. Auerbach, who has been a Celtics fixture since 1950, recently moved out of the downtown apartment on Boylston Street that had been his home away from home for decades. (Red's real home, of course, is Washington D.C.) He moved there, as Auerbach likes to tell the story, after leaving a Boston hotel because on two occasions when the team went on a road trip, he returned to find the price of his room had been increased . . . Old friends Kenny Anderson and Jon Barry, both Georgia Tech alums (and teammates for a season in college), reunited last week with the Atlanta Hawks. For Anderson, it's his eighth team in a 14-year career that has seen him spend the most time in Boston and New Jersey (four-plus seasons apiece). Atlanta will also be his fourth team in three years, and he'll be reconnecting with former teammates Al Harrington (Indiana) and ex-Celtics Antoine Walker and Tony Delk. As for Barry, he already spent one year in Atlanta (1996-97), and that started a stretch for him in which he was on a playoff team for eight straight seasons. Barry will be joining his seventh team. That does not include Boston, which, you remember, drafted him in 1992 and then traded him to Milwaukee before he ever played a game . . . The four Celtics rookies are in New York this weekend - and not to see Red Sox-Yankees. This is the NBA's annual rookie orientation weekend, and the new players will hear from a number of speakers, including Paul Silas and Satch Sanders. The session is scheduled to close tomorrow with the players making a community service appearance in the Bronx and also hearing from Stern . . . Speaking of rookies, the Clippers' No. 1 pick, point guard Shaun Livingston of Peoria (Ill.) Central High School, has signed a deal with Reebok. The estimable Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, who tracks these kinds of things, reports that Nike, which signed LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony last season, has added only one first-round draft pick this season, the Bulls' Ben Gordon. The big sneaker mover and shaker among this year's draftees is Adidas, which signed six first-rounders, including No. 1 overall selection Dwight Howard and New York schoolboy flash Sebastian Telfair.

Pacers regroup

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said he fully anticipates old paint Reggie Miller (39 in August) to retain his starting position in the Indiana backcourt. No real shock there, although the Pacers did go out and trade for free agent Stephen Jackson as the obvious replacement for Miller. Said Carlisle, "Be careful before you write off a guy like Reggie Miller. Don't underestimate greatness - at any age." The Pacers have adopted a new marketing slogan, which will be introduced today in greater Indianapolis: "One Goal." The implication is clear. After winning an NBA-best 61 games last season, the Pacers lost to the eventual champion Pistons in the eminently forgettable Eastern Conference finals. They have the NBA championship in their sights this season. Meanwhile, Pacers stopper Ron Artest told the latest issue of Slam Magazine that he, not Kevin Garnett, should have been last year's Most Valuable Player. Artest was asked about being linked to a deal involving the Kings' Peja Stojakovic, who finished fourth in the MVP voting. "That's a good thing," he told the magazine, "because they didn't have me down for MVP, but they want to trade me for Peja? I thought that I was the MVP last year because we had the best record and I was the best player on the team. So I felt that I should have at least been talked about for it." Jermaine O'Neal, who finished third in MVP voting, could not be reached for comment. Artest also was asked by the magazine if he wants to stay in Indiana. His response: "I think these days, with these general managers that want to win, you've just got to worry about yourself and worry about winning, and when or if that time comes, if you get traded, then whatever happens, happens." He also said he would have loved to be on the Olympic team, which struggled to a bronze medal finish in Athens. "I was surprised that the Defensive Player of the Year didn't get an invite, didn't get a call," he said. "You know, I would've been a ballboy, I would've done anything to be down there. I would've gotten all the guys water. I'd go down there right now and I'd be the ballboy. I'd get all the guys water, I'd stretch them out, give massages. I'd even give the coach a massage. I'd even be the defensive coordinator. Just get me a flight."

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