Chemistry has Suffered Since Trading E.Will

January 9, 2004


As soon as the Cavaliers finished practice yesterday afternoon at UMass-Boston's Clark Athletic Center, Eric Williams served as judge and jury for a slam-dunk contest rivaling any assembled for the annual All-Star festivities. The impressive field included LeBron James, Darius Miles, and Kedrick Brown. Williams would have paid to watch the competition, but had the unenviable task of picking a winner.

   It never actually came to that. Laughter quickly replaced one-upmanship. Williams stood at the center of it all, diplomatically dishing out jokes, compliments, and subtle criticisms. It's clear that Williams is now the catalyst of the Cavaliers' chemistry, just as he had been for four-plus seasons during his second stint with the Celtics.

"I felt as though with me there [in Boston] we had a shot," said Williams. "We were right there. We were rising. If you gave us 25 games, that team would have been right where you needed us to be. We just needed a little more time around each other because everything else was there. I think we would have been able to compete for the Eastern Conference championship. I believed that and I know the coaching staff believed that. I know all the players believed that."

Since the Celtics traded Williams, Brown, and Tony Battie to the Cavaliers for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart Dec. 15, the chemistry in the Boston locker room has suffered. Director of basketball operations Danny Ainge has revamped the roster during his eight-month tenure.

In the wake of the deal, the Celtics have yet to put together a winning streak, posting a 6-6 record. Meanwhile, Cleveland has gone 5-6, winning with an emphasis on defense acquired from Boston. Tonight at the FleetCenter, the teams meet for the first time since the trade.

"Although we had great players around in Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, I always felt I was the character of the team," said Williams. "I could be the missing link in everything that they were trying to accomplish, the guy that would sacrifice. Not too many guys can do that and still maintain respect for doing it. I did it every day.

"I think they miss it a lot, from what I've been hearing, some of the conversations of other players that have left messages on my phone. I listen to their voices and it shows the life of the team. It's not what [the messages] say. It's the tone of voice. You can feel it. Mark Blount, Walter McCarty, I spoke to those guys probably the most. They just say, 'It ain't the same.' It's the morale. I tried to keep everybody going, keep them positive in their mind."

Williams has taken his positive attitude and impact to Cleveland. He has sparked better communication on the court and more pride in defense. He has mentored James about the finer points of the NBA. Coach Paul Silas got exactly what he wanted in veteran leadership from Williams and Battie. Brown has played better than Silas expected.

All three players involved in the mid-December move have played more in Cleveland. Williams and Brown earned starting jobs at small forward and shooting guard, respectively. While Williams's scoring average has declined slightly, Brown and Battie are averaging about 1 point more than they did with the Celtics.

"The day it happened, I didn't know the trade was still coming about because I know the coaches here [in Boston] had some apprehensions," said Silas. "I didn't know whether they were going to nix it or not. And I'm going crazy. I can see [why they didn't want to let them go]. Absolutely, I can see it. They're just three really good guys, who happen to be able to play basketball. That's the ultimate.

"Normally, a coach is trading guys that he wants to get rid of and [the Celtics' coaches] certainly didn't want it to happen. And they're coming from a winning situation. It showed me that we should go get this thing done. It's just great chemistry right now. Certainly, [James] has benefited probably most from them being here."

When James failed to rotate on defense against Toronto Wednesday night, Williams let him know it. Silas likes that kind of leadership. Silas wants Williams and Battie to point out mistakes during film sessions and games, and solicits observations from his veterans during games.

"Any time I mess up, I need somebody on the team to just let me know because I'm going to let them know too if they mess up," said James. "Before he came, we were an individual defensive team. Then, when him and Battie and Kedrick showed up, we've been a defensive team. He has a great attitude and that can always improve chemistry."

Battie views the Cavaliers' current position as similar to where the Celtics were a few years ago. Cleveland has plenty of scoring options, but the team can benefit from better defense. Battie is also trying to teach the younger Cavaliers that shutting down an opponent can be just as exciting as dunking. That was a lesson Battie learned in Boston.

"The coaching staff [in Boston] know where we started from," said Battie. "We were part of the team that got the Celtics to 'return to glory,' got us back to the playoffs. I think the coaches and the fans appreciated all the hard work we did. But it's just a business. You can't get mad because you still have a job to do."

Neither Battie nor Williams has revenge in mind. And they have no hard feelings.

"I always believed there were two different Celtics," said Williams. "There was us, the coaching staff, and the players, then there was the people upstairs. It was always like that from the beginning. I had speculation that [the trade] would happen earlier because of all the talk about how this team would shape up. I knew that I was already written off because of the language that was being used about the future of this team. I wasn't being mentioned in that language." SIDEBAR: Trading places

A look at how the Celtics and Cavaliers have fared since the Dec. 15 deal that sent Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown to Cleveland for Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm, and Michael Stewart (not including games Dec. 15, when none of the six played

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