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Ainge may not be done dealing

Battie could be next to go

So, who's next?

No one at the moment, Celtics hoop boss Danny Ainge said last night before Boston crushed the pseudo-Timberwolves, 96-80, before 12,279 at the FleetCenter. "I don't anticipate anything before the start of the season," said Ainge, when asked about any new deals on the horizon. "But that doesn't mean I'm not trying."

One name to surface in the wake of the Antoine Walker-Raef LaFrentz deal is that of Tony Battie. League sources said yesterday that the Celtics had put Battie "in play" even before the Walker trade and that there was interest from Toronto and others. (The Raptors supposedly talked about Antonio Davis.) Yesterday, Battie's agent, Joel Bell, reported nothing new as far as he could see.

"There's really been nothing since the trade," Bell said. "Hey, if they trade him, they trade him. That's life."

That's precisely how Battie views it as well.

"It's a business," he said. "Things happen all the time. You gotta move on. If Antoine can be traded, then anyone can. He was a cornerstone here. You just have to be professional about it and carry on, whether it's here or wherever you go."

Battie may be on the losing end of a starting berth, depending on what coach Jim O'Brien decides to do with LaFrentz. O'Brien said last night that he expected LaFrentz to start, but he didn't say at what position. He could start at power forward alongside Battie or at center alongside Vin Baker.

"Whatever adjustments they make, whatever role I have, that's what I'll do," Battie said. "I just take orders from the coaches."

Ainge said he liked the team's depth at the center and power forward positions now with Battie, Baker, LaFrentz, and Mark Blount.

"They can all play either position and we have two other guys, Eric Williams and Jumaine Jones, who can also play [power forward] when we go small," he said.

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In easily their best outing of the exhibition season, the Celtics led from wire to wire in their 16-point victory. (It was a 28-point lead with 7:09 to play.) Paul Pierce came close to a triple double (14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds), Baker had 11 rebounds in 25 minutes, and LaFrentz showed little rust or sluggishness with 9 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes. "I thought it was a very, very solid effort," O'Brien said. It was hard to make too much of the W. The Wolves were without Michael Olowokandi (knee) and Wally Szczerbiak's exhibition debut was a disaster (0 for 5, 9 minutes). Latrell Sprewell was playing in only his second game. Nonetheless, Pierce said he saw a lot of good things. "I was pretty happy with the way we moved the ball [19 assists] and the way we defended," he said. "I think we can match up with anyone in the East." O'Brien saluted Baker's effort, saying, "You can't play any harder than Vin is playing. It's impossible." Then, in something O'Brien could never have said last year, the coach added, "I think Vin needs to be on the court as much as possible." Baker got a nice reception from the crowd and was aggressive throughout. "I've got the lift back and I've got the bounce back," he said. "But I'm nowhere near where I need to be." The Celtics close out their exhibition season tomorrow night at home against the Nets.

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The Celtics have until Oct. 31 to exercise an option that would guarantee the fourth year of Kedrick Brown's five-year rookie contract. They have yet to pull the trigger, but it's not because they're wavering. "That decision was made before the start of training camp," Ainge said. "There's no rush." Many of Brown's draft class have had their deals extended to Year 4 . . . For a brief spell, the Celtics went over to the Dark Side, showcasing a public address announcer to rival the obnoxious, insufferable boors in other NBA locales (Dallas, Orlando, Detroit to name a few.) But after an awful start with some idiotic inflections, someone must have gotten to the lad because he mercifully ratcheted it down and was bearable the rest of the way. The Celtics said he was only trying out for the main job . . . If you're wondering about the curious timing of the Walker deal, here's one possibility why it went down when it did. Two of the principals, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills, were traded from Golden State to Dallas Aug. 18. Under NBA rules, a player cannot be traded with another player if he had previously been traded within the last 60 days. That is why the deal had to wait until Oct. 20 so that Mills and Welsch would have been in Dallas for the needed 60 days. Welsch had 2 points (1 of 3) in 10 minutes . . . Quick Work Dept: There are 27 18 X 24 color pictures of Celtics on the wall entering the locker room. By last night, there were still 27, but not one of them featured Walker.

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O'Brien is the son-in-law of Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay. So here's Dr. Jack's take on the Walker deal, courtesy of ESPN.com. "A black cloud hovered over Antoine Walker's situation with Boston Celtics' management ever since they decided not to extend his contract. With the air cleared, it looks as if Boston has come out fairly well in the deal." Ramsay wrote further that the Celtics acquired not only talent, "but added to team unity." LaFrentz, Ramsay added, "doesn't possess Walker's passing abilities, [but] he certainly won't hurt the Celtics in that regard. Overall, he's a better fit for the structure of the team." . . . Yankee fan supreme Eric Williams owned up to the unthinkable: He fell asleep watching Game 7 of the American League Championship Series with his Yanks trailing, 3-0. Williams has a new spin on the Red Sox' tortured history. "It's the Curse of the 4 B's: Bucky, Buckner, Boone and the Babe."

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