Chris Wallace Entitled to Gloat?

March 13, 2002

WALTHAM - Go ahead and gloat, Chris Wallace. You've certainly earned the right. Who can forget the days when know-it-alls and sportswriters - yes, I realize that's redundant - questioned your ability to make a good trade?

"I still have the scars right here," the Celtics general manager said yesterday. He pulled up his shirtsleeve, pointed to the invisible welts, and began to laugh.

   He made a great trade Feb. 20 and he knows it. One of the things that made it memorable was that it came together faster than he ever imagined.

"It's like we met this girl," Wallace said, "and seven days later we're in Vegas getting married."

Before they had Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk, the Celtics were simply invited guests to the playoff party. Now they warrant an announcement when they enter the room. They are a good team. Good enough to win their division and their conference.

It's been at least a decade since anyone around here made a statement like that. If you want to make yourself feel old, listen to what Paul Pierce said when he was told the Celtics haven't made the playoffs since 1995:

"Not since '95? Really? That was my senior year of high school."

That's one reason Wallace said the Celtics "need to make the playoffs more than any team in the NBA." They have been away too long. For seven years, their summers have begun in late April and early May. They have become more familiar with lottery picnics in New Jersey than big games against New Jersey.

They will play the Nets at the FleetCenter tonight, which is another chance for Wallace to see how effective his trade was. The Celtics played well against the first-place Nets without Delk and Rogers. It will be fun to see who matches up with whom now that the new Celtics are solidly in the rotation.

Wallace said he never doubted his deal, even when lottery pick Joe Johnson arrived in Phoenix and began to play like a star. The GM was asked if he would have sent a lottery pick to the Suns for Delk and Rogers before the draft.

"Of course," he said. "We tend to be enamored by the new, but you have to remember that Rodney was a lottery pick, too. You're talking about two guys who can give you 25 points [combined] every night. That's not going to change. That's who they are."

Who they are.

That was also part of the trade considerations. As one of the team's assistant coaches said, "There is not an [expletive] on the team." It helped that Rogers and Delk came to town with good-guy reputations. Another plus is that Delk played with Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty in college. The new players had no problem understanding that Pierce and Walker often become vocal in the huddle and that their critiques are not personal.

It was a good trade.

Go ahead and gloat.

"So," the smiling GM said, "what do you think of Jermaine O'Neal now?"

Wallace still remembers the summer of 2000, when he and Rick Pitino were criticized for offering three first-round picks for O'Neal. At the time, the power forward was essentially a practice player with the Trail Blazers. He's an All-Star with the Pacers now. I thought the Celtics were crazy for their proposal. I was wrong.

"And," Wallace added, "I remember a guy on the radio saying that this was the final confirmation of our incompetence."

He said he still stands by his proposal in 2000. He laughed again. The Celtics' practice court was nearly empty, and the laughter sounded good echoing off the walls. The wins and the laughter have been a long time coming. Earlier in the afternoon, Pierce laughed when he talked about the 3-pointer he hit Monday night in Washington, a shot that unofficially ended the Wizards' evening.

Players on the Washington bench had been talking to him a night earlier in Boston, and they continued chirping at MCI Center. He was able to end all the noise by salvaging a busted play and securing consecutive win No. 5.

The name of the play?

"How about 'Hail Mary'?" Pierce said. "It broke down early and I was trying to make something out of it."

Pierce eventually left the practice court. The emboldened GM remained and reminded his onetime critic that in the summer of '98, another team's GM offered three first-rounders for the right to draft Pierce. The Celtics wisely declined.

As Wallace recalled this story, two little girls played with a jump-rope. They were waiting for their father, Rodney Rogers, to emerge from a locker room. When Rogers appeared, the girls ran to him, hugged him, and told him to watch them shoot baskets.

The girls shot, the father watched, and the GM of a playoff-bound team relaxed. It was a good scene. After a seven-year drought, Celtic land is returning to normal.

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