The Deal that Almost Wasn't

August 21, 2005

The biggest deal in NBA history almost wasn't.

Not long after Antoine Walker sat for his introductory news conference at American Airlines Arena in Miami and said all the right things, an arthritic condition in his knees gave the Heat pause. According to two Eastern Conference sources, concerns that arose during the Walker physical resulted in a restructuring of his original six-year deal worth $53 million.

    Now, the deal is guaranteed for only four years, approximately $30 million, with the final two years being team options. The same two sources added that reaching a compromise was not easy.

But given all it took (five teams, 13 players) to get Walker a deal for more than the midlevel exception in the first place, cooler heads prevailed. It is unlikely Walker would have found more money or a better situation elsewhere. Besides, Walker and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, believe the power forward will prove his value over time and receive the six years of salary.

While Bartelstein initially denied that the Heat took issue with results of the physical, he steered clear of confirming that Walker still had a six-year guarantee.

"I don't know who's saying things, but no one knows but me," said Bartelstein. "But all I'll tell you is he still has a six-year contract."

When pressed on whether it was a six-year guarantee, Bartelstein said, "It's a six-year contract. In my opinion, the contract hasn't changed and I think it's going to be the same thing.

"I believe Antoine will get every dollar of the six years. I don't think anything will change. From a practical standpoint, nothing has changed. We think he'll get every dollar of the six years and it won't be an issue at all."

Bartelstein also emphasized that Walker did not fail the physical. If he had, the trade would have been rescinded and the Celtics would be short two second-round draft picks, cash considerations, and two players, Curtis Borchardt and Qyntel Woods.

Already this offseason, one deal has fallen through because of problems discovered in a physical. Shareef Abdur-Rahim was on his way from Portland to New Jersey before a bad knee took the trade off the table. Abdur-Rahim decided to walk away rather than agree to a restructured contract.

"Antoine didn't fail the physical," said Bartelstein. "What happened is, there were some concerns about some issues. We addressed the concerns and I believe he's going to get the full $53 million of his contract.

"Anyone that knows Antoine knows how durable he is. Based upon his track record and the assurances we've gotten from the Heat, I don't believe there's any question in my mind that he'll get all six years of the contract, the full $53 million."

Durability and a willingness to play through pain were in evidence when Walker competed for the Celtics. His knee condition dates back to his first stay in Boston. In recent years, a trimmer Walker has taken the court, as less weight no doubt relieves pressure on his knees.

During a nine-year career, Walker has missed only 19 of 706 regular-season games, while averaging 38.8 minutes per contest. Four times, he has played all 82 games. He sat for one game with a sprained left thumb in April 2002. He missed only four with a sprained right knee in January 2003. He lost just three to a severely bruised left knee last April, playing through lingering pain and stiffness during the postseason.

His pain tolerance is impressive. But with millions at stake, Miami was probably more worried about his quality of play than his durability in the later years of the contract. Walker turned 29 Aug. 12, celebrating with fellow NBA players Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson, and Shawn Marion among others at Joe's sports bar in Chicago. He will be almost 34 when Miami has to decide about his future with the team.

Stocking up

The Celtics will not suffer from a shortage of point guards, at least in training camp. Even after Will Bynum signed a two-year deal with the team Friday worth potentially $1 million, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge continued his pursuit of Dan Dickau . Boston still has $2 million of its midlevel exception left to sign a free agent.

Given the opportunity to play for the Hornets after less-than-memorable stints in Atlanta, Portland, and Dallas, Dickau started 46 games and averaged 13.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 5.2 assists.

"He's a veteran presence," said Ainge. "He's been around. He really got some good experience last year. I've always liked him. I liked him in college [at Gonzaga].

"The Celtics were actually trying to get him when he was coming out of college [in 2002]. He's just floated around. He's just been one of those guys who's been with a few different teams and really never had much of a chance to play. He got a chance to play this last year when they traded Baron Davis, and we watched him very closely and we liked what we saw. He's a guy that we have a great deal of interest in."

Bartelstein, who also represents Dickau, confirmed that he has had a lot of "serious conversations" with Ainge.

Ainge made no secret of the fact that the injury history of Delonte West (right hand fracture, right thumb fracture, sprained right ankle during summer league) has led him to add point guards to the roster. Following two impressive practices with the Celtics' summer league entry, Marcus Banks grabbed some valuable rest this summer for a nagging right shin injury per orders of team doctor Brian McKeon .

With West, Banks, Bynum, Dickau, and Orien Greene , the Celtics could have as many as three players competing for the starting job and five fighting for playing time. And that's the idea.

"They're all competing," said Ainge. "That's what I love about this situation that's a little bit different than what we've had. There's no politics. The best players are going to play."

The hope is a competitive atmosphere at training camp will spur everyone to better play. Although veteran Gary Payton brought order to what could have been a chaotic situation last season, he required special attention that did not always create the best environment for developing young players. Perhaps that was one thing Ainge had in mind when he alluded to past "politics."

High hopes

The Celtics considered Ryan Gomes a first-round pick who inexplicably dropped to No. 50 in the draft. And that was not lip service designed to sell fans on the Providence product. Gomes proved he deserved such praise during the Las Vegas summer league, where he outplayed those drafted ahead of him and earned national notice as someone ready to make an immediate contribution.

The Celtics backed up their high praise by paying a relatively high price. Ainge offered Gomes a contract more lucrative and with more guaranteed money than those traditionally awarded second-round picks. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players selected in the first round receive contracts with two years guaranteed and team options for the third and fourth years. The Celtics gave Gomes a year and a half guarantee in a deal that could stretch up to three years and earn him $2 million.

"We were talking for a long time about what the contract terms were going to be," said Gomes. "It feels good to have it in writing.

"It's not a first-round contract, but it's similar. The money's different, but it's not always about the money. You want to go out there and play. The money will come. That's how I look at it. I'm not worried about that right now."

With Gomes determined to make the most of his opportunity, he always seems to be heading to or coming from a workout. He will travel to Waltham with his agent this week and look for a place to live, get settled, and start working out again with the coaches.

Gomes knows training camp is around the corner and he wants to be in the best shape possible. He also wants to get whatever "jump-start" he can on his rookie season.

"There's always adjustments that need to be made when you go to a new place, a transition," said Gomes. "I'm just going to take it as I took it in college. Go out every day, practice, and work hard. Try to get out there and prove that I can play.

"I'm not going to try to please anyone outside that circle of teammates, coaches, people who gave me that contract."

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