Rogers Adds Depth

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February 22, 2002


DALLAS - It was the spring of 1999 and Rick Pitino already was looking forward to the upcoming free agent crop. Several names intrigued him, including the Los Angeles Clippers' Rodney Rogers.   "What I'm looking for," Pitino said then, "is someone who is a little down in his luck or someone who, for whatever reason, may have underachieved and needs a new start." He mentioned Rogers by name.

   That was because Rogers was a Clipper and, back then, being a Clipper usually meant you either underachieved or were down in the dumps. It also almost inevitably meant you'd go elsewhere when your contract expired, which is exactly what Rogers did.

He got his new start in Phoenix, where he won the Sixth Man Award in 2000, the second-most lopsided balloting since the award was introduced in 1983. Pitino instead ended up signing Calbert Cheaney, who lasted all of a year with the Celtics.

Now, almost three years later, Rogers has finally joined the Celtics, not as a free agent who is looking to rebuild his game, but as a soon-to-be free agent who has established himself as one of the game's more intriguing offensive players.

The Suns decided they could not re-sign him to a fair contract while still keeping a budget in line to avoid the dreaded luxury tax down the road. The Celtics may yet come to that same conclusion; they have major luxury tax concerns at the end of next season, and Rogers's time in Boston may be brief.

But until then, they have acquired in trade a veteran talent to give them depth and punch for the playoff drive.

"He's an unusual guy," said Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "He's hard to defend. He can step out and knock down the three or he can post you up. He's a good addition for them."

Added Celtics coach Jim O'Brien, "He can shoot it. He can play two positions for us, maybe three. It gives us more depth and that's important, especially when you're fighting for playoff position."

Rogers was averaging 12.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25.1 minutes for the Suns. He's an immediate upgrade in field goal percentage on the poor-shooting Celtics, making 46.6 percent of his shots. (The Celtics are shooting 41.8 percent, last in the league.) He also makes his free throws (82.8 percent), although he's not about to challenge Karl Malone or Jerry Stackhouse for the attempts title (99 in 50 games).

Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said both Rogers and Tony Delk, who came to the Celtics Wednesday in a trade for Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio, Randy Brown, and a 2002 first-round draft pick, initially were disappointed to learn of the deal. Both got the word from Phoenix coach Frank Johnson when the Suns landed in Memphis that day. Rogers commiserated with Ike Austin, hitting a rib joint in Memphis. He then flew to Dallas yesterday morning and joined his new team at American Airlines Center for last night's game.

"My only reaction was, 'Hey, let's move on,' " Rogers said. "They wanted to stay and talk about it, but I was ready to leave then and there. This is a nice, young team with a lot of talent. I'm glad to be here and add the things I do well."

Rogers was on one of the early buses to the arena, where assistant coach Lester Conner was waiting for him. He gave Rogers a quick tutorial in Celtics 101, and he understood right away what the team was all about.

"With Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker," he said, "they're going to be the horses. We're just going to ride them to the end."

This is Rogers's ninth NBA season and fourth team. He was an undeniable stud at Wake Forest, to the point where USA Basketball placed him on the Developmental Team that scrimmaged the original Dream Team in La Jolla, Calif., a decade ago. The Nuggets made him the No. 9 pick in the 1993 draft and he spent two years in Denver before being shipped to the Clippers in a draft-day deal in 1995 that landed Antonio McDyess in Denver. Rogers played four seasons with the Clippers and then left as a free agent, one of many Clippers who chose that route.

The guy is strong (he has to-die-for biceps) and pretty durable; he had played in 205 straight games until he missed the Suns' Jan. 24 game against the Knicks. His weight - he's listed at 255 pounds - can be a problem. After his Sixth Man Award year in Phoenix, he showed up out of shape and had a down season in 2000-01. He did have an opt-out clause that he could have exercised at the end of last season, but he decided to stay put. But the Suns felt they could not offer him anything more than a one-year extension because of down-the-road luxury tax concerns.

"That doesn't make a lot of sense for Rodney to stay in Phoenix on a one-year deal when he's got opportunities, I'm sure, this summer to move on and do something on a longer-term basis," Colangelo said. "So when we looked at this, we basically felt that if Rodney was not moved before the trade deadline, we were effectively going to lose him for nothing at the end of the summer."

Rogers said he had no inkling of the deal. He knew the Suns had to look down the road to Shawn Marion's extension, but he didn't think he was going to be involved.

"I wasn't thinking about it at all," he said. "I just wanted to play and finish out the year and then see what happens. I don't think my salary mattered in this. But maybe I can finish the season strong and - who knows? - maybe Boston will sign me."

Unlike Boston in the East, the Suns are going nowhere in the West (although they had only six fewer wins when the deal was made), and that meant cutting your losses. The Celtics have other ideas in the Anything Goes Eastern Conference, and the addition of Rogers should help them. Where he goes beyond this season is anyone's guess but, right now, Rogers has a chance to do what seemed remote in Phoenix: play in meaningful games in April and May.

"I'm a veteran," he said. "I can score inside and outside. I can post up and we can pass the ball around and have some fun. I'm ready for it. Anything I can add will give these guys a little more freedom."

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