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Celtics shop even as they drop

Boston picks up choice in a three-team trade

LOS ANGELES -- The Celtics became role players in the biggest deal made before yesterday's NBA trading deadline, using Chris Mills's $6.6 million contract to facilitate a three-team trade that sent the Hawks' Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons.

Boston acquired guards Chucky Atkins and Lindsey Hunter, a first-round draft pick this year and $3 million (the maximum cash compensation allowed) from Detroit, and sent starting point guard Mike James to Detroit and injured forward Mills to Atlanta.

In addition to Mills, the Hawks acquired center Zeljko Rebraca, guard Bob Sura, and a conditional first-round pick from the Pistons.

With the deal, Boston adds a pair of playoff-tested veterans. Playing in his fifth NBA season, Atkins averaged 6.2 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 rebounds in 40 games (18.8 minutes per game). After this season, he has two years remaining on his contract worth $8.7 million. Interim coach John Carroll said Atkins will become the Celtics' starting point guard as soon as possible. That could happen as early as tomorrow night in Portland, but certainly by Wednesday when the Celtics play the Bucks at home.

Hunter, in the midst of his 11th NBA season, appeared in 11 games for Detroit. He becomes a free agent after this season.

"I like Chucky Atkins and his experience," said Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge. "He's been a starting guard on a playoff team. I like who he is as a person and I think he'll be a big help to us. Mike James is tough to lose because he was a warrior for the Celtics the first half of the year and a great human being. Lindsey Hunter is a very talented player, but he's the odd man out because I don't want to stifle the development of Marcus [Banks]."

But for Ainge, the best part of the deal was gaining yet another first-round draft pick. The Celtics now have three first-round selections in June, allowing Ainge to add more young talent. In addition to its own first-round pick and the one received yesterday, Boston also acquired a first-round selection from Dallas in the Antoine Walker deal.

"This was definitely about the opportunity to get a first-round pick," said Ainge. "I'm excited to have three first-round picks in this year's draft. I'm excited to have an impact in this year's draft. It will be fun. We have a lot of options to package picks with players, to trade, to draft, or to move up in the draft. We have to try to get some really good players in the draft. We need to do a lot of work and we need a little bit of luck."

But before the draft, the Celtics, once again, must adjust to personnel changes as they make a push for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. When reached by phone yesterday afternoon in Detroit, Atkins said he planned to join the team today after a physical in Boston and will be ready to play tomorrow in Portland. Carroll expects Atkins's first workout with the Celtics will come tomorrow morning at shootaround. Atkins spoke to Ainge for approximately five minutes yesterday, but the veteran guard did not learn any specifics about his role.

Ainge said Carroll would make all decisions about playing time, but he expects both Atkins and Banks to see "significant minutes" at point guard.

"I think Danny brought Chucky in here to be the staring point guard," said Carroll. "I don't even think it's a question who's going to start. He was a starting point guard for the Detroit Pistons when they went to the second round of the playoffs a couple years ago. The only reason he hasn't started is because Chauncey Billups is an All-Star. I don't think it's even a question why Chucky's here. He's not here to sit on the bench."

That is good news for Atkins, who saw his role in Detroit diminish with the addition of Billups in 2002 and Larry Brown as head coach this season.

"I feel great," said Atkins. "I really do. It's a good situation for me and a good opportunity. I look at it as a challenge. The situation I was in, where I was only playing [18.8 minutes per game] when I knew I was better than that, that's tough. So, I'm looking forward to it. Everything here [in Detroit] is cool. I just thought I deserved a lot more time than I was getting. But I'm happy with the situation before me in Boston now. I'm a Celtic."

When asked how he felt switching from a winning team near the top of the Eastern Conference to a losing team struggling to make the playoffs, Atkins added: "I've been in this situation before. The last two years, I played on a team that won 100 games. But when I came to Detroit four years ago, the team was losing. No one came to the games. No one cared. Now, it's the hottest ticket in town. I'm ready to do the same thing in Boston."

By trading James to Detroit, Boston loses the only player besides Paul Pierce to appear and start in the team's first 55 games. James also becomes the first player acquired by Ainge to be dealt by Ainge. The point guard signed a one-year contract worth the veteran minimum during the summer.

When the season started, James surprised many by earning the starting job over Banks, a prized lottery pick Ainge acquired in a draft-night deal with Memphis.

After five trades since Ainge took over in May, Boston is prepared to take whatever changes lie ahead in stride.

"I don't think [another move] really matters at this point," said Pierce. "It's not surprising. Our goal is to make the playoffs. But we understand that we're rebuilding. We're trying to get ourselves ready for the future with draft picks and having leverage."

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