Grampa Celtic Talks the Joe Johnson for Rodney Rogers Trade
It could have been a vintage Bill Cosby routine.
The Lord: "Jim O'Brien, this is the Lord speaking. Have I got a deal for you! You give up three of your guys who aren't playing, plus that No. 1 draft pick you don't want, and Phoenix will give you Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk."
Jim O'Brien: "OK, who is this?"
The Lord: "It's me, the Big Guy In The Sky. The one who calls all the shots. I'm telling you that if you'll give Phoenix Joe Johnson, Milt Palacio, Randy Brown, and that first pick you've got, they'll give you Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk."
Jim O'Brien: "C'mon, who is this? Charles Barkley? C'mon, Charles, I don't have time for this."
The Lord: "No, really, swear to Myself. I brokered this. (NBC Sports president) Dick Ebersol called me and asked me if I could do something to help the Celtics, because they were his best hope coming out of the East for decent ratings in the Finals. I told him I'd see what I could do. Now the deal is on the table. You want it or not?"
The actual story isn't really very much different. This truly was the deal Jim O'Brien couldn't refuse.
"(General manager) Chris (Wallace) said to me, `Here's something on the table,' " recalls O'Brien. ` "What do you think?' And I said, `I don't even have to think about it. Then we ran it by Antoine (Walker) and Paul (Pierce) because they liked Joe, Milt, and Randy as people. But they thought about it as long as I did."
The deal brought a 30-year-old nine-year veteran and former Sixth Man Award winner, plus a 28-year-old six-year veteran sharpshooter in exchange for a rookie (Johnson) who had played 43 minutes with four DNPs in the 10 games prior to the trade, a non-drafted journeyman who had played 44 minutes with three DNPs in those same 10 games, and a 34-year-old backup to the backup to the backup point guard who had played in one (1) game all year. The Celtics also kicked in their 2002 No. 1 pick which, due to salary considerations (read: impending luxury tax), they wanted no part of. It was the Mother Of All No-Brainers.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was one loose end. Rogers will be a free agent at the end of this season. He will have the leverage. He might walk.
To which Wallace, O'Brien, and any Celtics fans with half a brain can say, "Have you noticed what date it is and we're still playing?"
"We understood that Rodney was going to be a free agent," acknowledges O'Brien. "But we'll deal with that when the time comes. We were a good team before we got these two (31-23), but this was an opportunity to upgrade. With the addition of Rodney and Tony, we felt we could make a real run for it. We owed it to the fans. And (owner) Paul Gaston said before the season that, `We want to win this year.' We had a chance to get two veterans that could make us contenders for a long time. We had to pull the trigger."
The trade shocked Messrs. Rogers and Delk. "When we found out, we had just landed in Memphis with the Suns," Rogers explains. "(Coach) Frank Johnson pulled us aside to tell us. We couldn't believe it because right before we left town he had talked to both of us, telling us that we were team leaders and could help him make the transition (from assistant to head coach after the sacking of Scott Skiles)."
What Delk knew, but Rogers might not have been aware of, was that the Celtics had been fixated on both of them for some time. "We have coveted both Rodney and Tony since our second year here (1998-99)," confirms O'Brien. "We (he and Rick Pitino) knew Tony well, and we always liked Rodney."
Knew Tony well? No kidding. While at Kentucky, Pitino had recruited Delk away from the University of Tennessee, which could not have been too pleased about losing a Volunteer State native who might have been the best high school shooter in America for two years running (37 and 38 points per game, respectively, as a 6-foot-2-inch bombardier) to the neighboring (and hated) Wildcats. Delk got better and better as a four-year Kentucky player and was an instrumental part of the 1996 national champions. So both Pitino and O'Brien knew all about Delk's skill, work capacity, and personal dignity.
The 6-7, 255-pound Rogers averaged 19 ppg while shooting 58 percent from the floor during a three-year career at Wake Forest. He was one of the Chosen Eight selected to provide a week's worth of competition to the original Dream Team back in 1992. He entered the NBA in 1993 and has established himself as a perpetually tough matchup for opposing front-court players because he can mix some by-the-numbers inside moves with a high-arcing outside shot.
That shot is what most caused the Celtics to salivate. "We wanted to add shooters," points out O'Brien. Rogers may look like a classic inside bull, and, as the Pistons can attest, he does know his way around the low hole, but as a Celtic his primary raison d'etre is to taunt rival big men (especially centers when he enters the game as a 5) with his long-range shooting.
Rogers has had no trouble adapting to the Boston way of offensive life. When he arrived here Feb. 23, he had been playing his usual Rodney Rogers game; that is to say, 31 percent of his field goal attempts as a Sun had been threes. This was pretty much in keeping with his career path, which started out with 17 percent of his rookie field goal attempts being 3-pointers, and which has ranged over the past seven-plus years from 21 to 27 percent - until he arrived in Boston.
Let's just say that Rodney blends in with the surroundings. During the regular season, 43 percent of his field goal attempts were threes. During the playoffs, that figure has risen to 51 percent (40 of 79). Delk? Try 8 for 22 on 2-pointers and 10 for 23 on threes during the playoffs.
Throw in the fact that each player is a so-called "character guy" who won't rock any boats, and this trade continues to pay daily dividends.
The Lord: "Jim O'Brien, you didn't think that was the end of the story, did you? You owe me."
Jim O'Brien: "Can't you see I'm busy? Here's my cellphone number. Give me a call after the Finals."
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