Antoine's Deal Worth up to $85m

January 9, 1999

Antoine's Deal Worth up to $85m

   Antoine Walker will be in Boston Tuesday. The Celtics forward is planning to stay in the area a while. Like, say, for the next seven seasons. The NBA lockout is over, and, Walker hopes, so are the questions about his contract.

"I'm a Celtic, man," he said yesterday from his home in Chicago. "Write it down. Boston is where I want to be."

There has been plenty of post-lockout analysis of the winners and losers in the NBA's six-month labor dispute. Most people believe that owners, such as the Celtics' Paul Gaston, won. Most also believe that young stars such as Walker, prevented from earning $100 million multiyear contracts with the new collective bargaining agreement, lost. But if you tell Walker that, he might ask you to check your math as well as your perspective.

"I'm happy to be playing, to be honest with you," he said. "The new deal says I can make something like $85 million over seven years. That's good enough for me. That's a lot of money. I look at it like this: If you can't live off of $85 million, you shouldn't be living. I just want to be in a position to take care of my family. I'm not disappointed about that.

"But my thing is that we could have been playing basketball a long time ago. We could have been playing in November. We held out so we wouldn't have a hard salary cap, and now that's what we have, so what were we holding out for? I'm just ready to play now. I was kind of anxious in November, but now it's real bad. I can't wait to get back on the court. I'm in good spirits."

When training camp opens in this abbreviated season, the Celtics can then begin negotiating with Walker. The team can offer Walker a maximum of $85 million over seven seasons. It looks as if that will happen sooner than later. So it doesn't appear likely that the Celtics will wait for Walker to play out the final year of his current contract before deciding to re-sign him.

All of Walker's contract questions could be answered as soon as the end of this month. But that's later. Now the 6-foot-9-inch forward is ready to play in an NBA game for the first time since April 18, the last game of the 1997-98 season. Those with active imaginations may envision bloated players, idle for six months, wheezing up and down NBA courts across North America. That may happen. But Walker will not be one of the severely winded ones.

"We've had some real good games here in Chicago," he said. "Me, Scottie [ Pippen] , Ron Harper, Juwan [ Howard] , and Randy Brown have been playing almost every day. Sometimes guys from out of town will come in, so we've had some games with [ Charles] Oakley, too.

"I'm not crazy enough to say that all the players around the league have been playing during the lockout, because that ain't true. But I think you'll see good ball played in the league."

Walker said he remains locked at his playing weight, 245-250 pounds. He often worked out twice a day in Chicago. Fortunately for him, he took care of his body and his finances during the lockout. There are two reasons he didn't find himself in a bind during the shutdown: He signed a 10-year contract with adidas over the summer (the money from the shoe company began coming in November), and he has saved his money from the first two years of his contract.

"But I'm not saying it didn't hurt to look up every two weeks and be missing a paycheck," he said.

Now that basketball has been returned to the courts after spending a summer and fall on negotiating tables, Walker likes the idea of talking about the Celtics and the playoffs.

"I think we have a real good chance of getting in there," he said. "I like our team. We've got everybody coming back. Compare that to the team around here [ the Bulls] . They have nine spots to fill. With us, we've had a year playing under Coach [ Rick Pitino] , so we should know what to expect. We'll be ready. And I think [ rookie forward] Paul Pierce will pick things up fast, because everybody can help him with the system."

Some fans may remember Walker's comments from the summer regarding Pierce. He said then that the Celtics may have been more improved if they had drafted a big man. But that was before Walker saw Pierce play. He likes the 6-7 forward's game.

The only question is, will anyone be at the FleetCenter to watch the young Celtics?

"I hope the fans come back," Walker said. "I hope they understand that we didn't call for the lockout. We didn't want the game to be shut down."

In less than a month, arenas will host NBA games again. You will be able to find Walker at the FleetCenter. Perhaps for the next seven years.

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