Williams, Battie, Brown sent packing
In the second major trade of his tenure as Celtics director of basketball operations, Danny Ainge sent center Tony Battie, swingman Kedrick Brown, and forward Eric Williams to Cleveland yesterday in exchange for guard Ricky Davis, forward/center Chris Mihm, and center Michael Stewart and a 2004 second-round draft pick.
With the move, Ainge continues to leave his imprint on the Celtics, dealing away core players who helped turn around the franchise following a six-year absence from the postseason.
Battie (5.9 points, 5.1 rebounds per game) and Williams (11.6 points, 4.5 rebounds) started for Boston last season before being moved into productive reserve roles this season. After being demoted from the starting five, Brown saw little playing time. The biggest loss for Boston may be the leadership of Williams, who was a favorite of coach Jim O'Brien for the way he played defense. Williams was also considered the heart and soul of the Celtics by many of his teammates, who were visibly shaken and dismayed by his departure.
"One thing I don't want to discount is the players that we're giving up," said Ainge, who was roundly booed during the ceremony retiring Cedric Maxwell's number last night at the FleetCenter. "To get something of value you have to give something of value.
"Jim O'Brien has a good system and he's gotten a lot out of this team over the past two years. Eric Williams and Tony Battie have been a big part of that, so I certainly don't underestimate chemistry. Although, I think chemistry can be re-established with teams. So, starting [today] our chemistry won't be what it was. We are going to have to re-establish some chemistry and we'll see how it goes."
Davis arrives with impressive numbers (15.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists per game) and a reputation for selfish play. He recently incurred the anger of laid-back Cleveland coach Paul Silas for what was termed conduct detrimental to the team. Both Davis and Stewart were disciplined for inappropriate conduct before the Cavaliers played the Hornets in late November.
Last March, Davis intentionally missed at the wrong basket as he attempted to record the first triple double of his career. But Ainge envisions Davis as a complement to Paul Pierce, a scorer who can take the some of the offensive pressure off the Celtics captain. Ainge noted that Pierce and Davis work out together during the summer and the two players are "good friends." Pierce commented that Davis "is a guy that I can go to war with, a competitor like myself and I see it when I work out with him." Pierce predicted Davis would "flourish" in the Celtics offense and looked forward to playing with him.
Before Boston played Cleveland Saturday night, Davis half-jokingly told Pierce, "You need to get me over there." Ainge obviously had the same thought.
"[Davis] is a spectacular talent I've watched from the time he was a freshman at Iowa," said Ainge. "He's a young man that I believe has grown in the last little while and has some things to prove in his career . . . I believe that coming to the Boston Celtics with the tradition and our coaching staff, with the discipline that we instill and our veteran leadership, and his relationship with Paul . . . I believe that it will be a focus to get him on the same page with our team. I believe that Ricky wants to win and he's very, very excited about this possibility."
Still, as many questioned the timing of the deal -- the Celtics were riding a five-game winning streak before last night -- Ainge stressed that he was looking out for the long-term interests of the franchise. The move appeared to keep the Celtics in a rebuilding phase. Only four players (Pierce, Vin Baker, Mark Blount, and Walter McCarty) remain from last season's team. Pierce likened the constant turnover of Celtics personnel to playing on a different pickup team every day.
"It's difficult," said Pierce. "Nobody said it's going to be an easy, straight, one-way path. We're faced with another challenge of trying to integrate three new players, especially at this time when we were playing well. I thought we were really getting to know one another. But hey, we're faced with another obstacle. But I think it's something we'll work out."
The deal first surfaced as a serious possibility on Saturday. Ainge told O'Brien about the talks he was having with the Cavaliers an hour before the teams tipped off Saturday. O'Brien learned the deal was essentially done shortly after shootaround yesterday.
"I have mixed emotions," said O'Brien, who abruptly left his postgame press conference without answering a single question. "We're certainly getting a quality perimeter guy in Ricky, and we think that Chris has great potential for us. But we're losing three guys -- two veterans in Eric and Tony -- and it's very painful. These guys really helped turn this franchise around and competed when they've been hurt and they're one of the reasons why you can say anything about the Celtics.
"But we're trying to take us to a level where we can consistently compete for an Eastern Conference championship and get ourselves into the Finals. Every decision we make is directed toward that goal."
The financial ramifications of the deal could adversely affect the Celtics next summer as they pursue free agents. The new acquisitions will push the Boston payroll into the mid-to-high $50 million range. While the Celtics are giving up close to $7.2 million, they are taking on almost $14 million in salary. After this season, Davis has four years left on his a contract worth approximately $25 million and Stewart has one year remaining at $4.48 million. Mihm is slotted to earn $4 million next season under the terms of his rookie deal.
Meanwhile, Williams is in the final year of his contract. After this season, Battie has two years worth $10 million left on his deal. And after the Celtics picked up the option on his rookie contract, Brown is signed for next season at $2.3 million.
For the Celtics that remain, the issue wasn't money, but timing. And they were not thinking long- or short-term. They were simply wondering, "Why now?" Boston saw its five-game winning streak end last night, losing to Minnesota, 116-95, with only nine players available.
Many Celtic players were frustrated that Ainge did not let them play together longer before making another dramatic change. They believed the team was just beginning to move on from the Oct. 20 Antoine Walker trade, building the chemistry necessary to succeed in the East.
When assessing the Celtics' performance against the Timberwolves, Pierce said he "did not know where our heads were" and wondered if his teammates were "demoralized" by the deal. Judging from the comments of many players, that may have been the case.
"I don't understand any of it," said Blount. "We were starting to roll, starting to get everybody on the same page. I don't understand this. I miss my brothers."
When asked if he wished Ainge had allowed the Celtics to play out more of the season with Williams, Battie, and Brown, Blount added, "Of course. Definitely, to see what we could have done and to see where we could take it. But it's his job to make moves. He can do whatever."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.