Heat Deal Cool with Him
August 5, 2005
When reached by telephone yesterday after his introductory press conference at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Antoine Walker had Boston on his mind. While Walker may differ with Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge when it comes to talent evaluation, the versatile power forward with an unapologetic fondness for the perimeter knows how to credit an assist.
The five-team, 13-player deal the largest in NBA history that sent Walker to the Heat Tuesday could not have happened without the Celtics' consent. Signing a six-year, $53 million contract and joining the title-contending Heat more than mitigated any disappointment Walker felt about leaving the Celtics a second time. In fact, Walker praised Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck several times, recognizing how they helped send him to an "exciting situation" and provide "good closure" to his playing days in Boston.
"From Day One, [the Celtics] never offered me any money and it was disappointing on that point," said Walker. "So, I kind of knew what was going on. Things have just changed and they're going a different route. They've got some young guys that can play, who are going to be good three or four years down the line. For me, it's good closure to move on at this point in my career.
"I kind of got the feeling that they were trying to put me at the midlevel [$5 million starting salary] range. I couldn't understand that. They kind of got it around the league that I would have to settle for that, but I didn't have any intentions of playing for the mid level. On the other hand, they did do the sign-and-trade for me. So, I am very happy and I thank Wyc and Danny for that. But it was discouraging to not get any offer because my intention at the start of the summer was to come back to Boston."
When Ray Allen re-signed with Seattle and Michael Redd with Milwaukee early in the free agent period, and Boston let the days pass, Walker knew he would have to wait for a sign-and-trade. That his second stint with the Celtics ended after 31 games did not shock Walker. He was certainly more prepared for the end this time than when Ainge surprised Walker with a trade to Dallas just prior to the 2003-04 season. That move led to hard feelings.
"Obviously, I was very bitter when I left the first time," said Walker. "Whether things got patched up, I don't know. It was kind of a weird situation. It worked out the way I thought it would. I thought I was going to go back and just play it out and move on this summer. I never thought I was going to have an opportunity to really re-sign [with Boston]. It's unfortunate because I really enjoyed playing with Paul [Pierce]."
And what about Ainge?
"I have no problem with Danny," said Walker. "I don't think Danny has a high respect for me as a basketball player. I think he thinks I'm a good player, but he obviously believes there's a lot of other good players out there, better than me. But I do respect him as an ex-player and as a man. He did a lot of things to bring me back to Boston. Then, he did a sign-and-trade to put me in this situation. I thank him for that. I appreciate him and I respect him for that. I always will appreciate what Danny and Wyc did to get me to Miami because now I have an opportunity to win a championship, and they didn't have to do that at all.
"There's going to be four circled dates on my calendar. I'm looking forward to playing against them. I built a lot of good relationships with those young guys in the 31 games that I came back. There are no ill feelings toward Boston. The city has been great to me. The fans have been great. "