Chuck Da Three and Play D: Delk is Obie's Kinda Guy

February 27, 2002

WALTHAM - Jim O'Brien celebrated his 50th birthday at the start of the Celtics' recent tour through the Western Conference. But it wasn't until almost the end of the trip that general manager Chris Wallace found a suitable gift.

There's nothing O'Brien appreciates more than a veteran who can play defense and score, usually in that order. So he couldn't wait to unwrap Tony Delk and try him out in the starting lineup. And it didn't hurt that the package came with a Kentucky bow.

    Without question, O'Brien liked what he saw from Delk in 23 minutes as the starting shooting guard in the trip finale against Houston Saturday. Even though the Celtics lost the game, O'Brien came away convinced that with a few practice/cram sessions, Delk will be ready to assume a regular starting role. He will make his second start tonight against Milwaukee.

"I know Tony," said O'Brien, who was an assistant coach at Kentucky during Delk's days as a Wildcat. "I know what he brings to a team. I know his basketball IQ. If you look at the teams that he has played on, Sacramento is a tough starting lineup to break, Phoenix is a tough starting lineup to break into when you consider they have [Stephon] Marbury and [Penny] Hardaway. We have been looking for a guy that can give us consistent shooting at the 2 on a regular basis.

"Tony Delk has great familiarity with Antoine Walker. They've played together. They know each other. I would expect more chemistry between those two than you would have in a normal trade. I thought I saw the makings of that in Houston. We were like a plus-12 when Tony Delk was on the court.

"Tony Delk is going to start for us, my hope is, for the rest of the year. If something doesn't work out, we'll make adjustments. If he gets hurt, we'll put somebody else in there."

When Delk was acquired with Rodney Rogers from Phoenix Feb. 20, he was not projected as the next starter at shooting guard on a list that has included Joe Johnson, Eric Williams, Erick Strickland, and Kedrick Brown. Over his seven-year career, Delk made just 37 regular-season starts and one playoff start. He is best known for producing instant offense off the bench.

But starting shooting guard is the only position that O'Brien has tinkered with throughout the season. It seemed he could never find a player with the right mix of defensive intensity, offensive skill, and experience. If Brown did not work out, O'Brien was considering Strickland for the starting role - until the trade.

"The opportunity is there and I want to make the best of it," said Delk. "I bring in energy and I play both ends of the court. That's what I enjoy doing.

"I know I can play as a starter. I just haven't had that opportunity. Here, it's on me right now. I've got to go out there and perform. It's something that guys wait on their whole career. It's what you do when you get it."

To that end, Delk and Rogers have been learning a basic set of plays practically nonstop since they landed Monday afternoon. Practice yesterday ended with the two newcomers running through plays called out rapid-fire by O'Brien as part of a unit that included Paul Pierce, Tony Battie, and Kenny Anderson.

Delk is expected to relieve the pressure on Walker and Pierce and become the third scorer.

Delk and Rogers believe their experience will make a difference as Boston makes its push toward the postseason.

"They've only been here two practices, so it's going to take a little time," said Pierce. "But with the talents that they have, I think they're going to be able to blend in nicely.

"They've been in the league, so there's going to be time for them to get into the mix. They can't do anything but help this ball club, especially giving me and Antoine relief.

"We've been playing a lot of minutes coming down the stretch and we're going to need that little break going into the playoffs."

"They've got to get comfortable," said Walker. "We're a team that has a lot of chemistry and they've just got to find their niche and play. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time for those guys to fit in. We need them to come in and be impact players right away."

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