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Walker back in green

In a surprise move at today's NBA trading deadline, the Boston Celtics reacquired former all-star Antoine Walker from the Atlanta Hawks.

According to a team source, the Celtics will send guard Gary Payton, center Michael Stewart and forward Tom Gugliotta to Atlanta.

The Hawks will also get a future first-round draft choice, spokesman Arthur Triche said. The trade was pending league approval.

Walker spent seven years with the Celtics from 1996-2003, helping them reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2001-02. But basketball boss Danny Ainge decided after taking over the team during the 2003 postseason that it would be better off without its strongest all-around player and its strongest personality.

Nine days before the 2003-04 season opener, Ainge traded Walker along with guard Tony Delk to the Dallas Mavericks for center Raef LaFrentz, guard Jiri Welsch and a first-round draft pick. Welsch was traded to Cleveland on Thursday for a 2007 first-round draft pick.

As a TV analyst before he took over the Celtics, Ainge made no secret of his distaste for Walker's game. When Walker was traded, Ainge commented less on his play than on his influence on the locker room, saying the player "had a grasp on the franchise."

"He's been the best player here for quite a while. He's been a vocal leader in the locker room," Ainge said at the time. "Now we're going in a different direction."

Walker leads Atlanta with 20.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 40.2 minutes per game. In his career, Walker is averaging 20 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Payton, a nine-time all-star, reluctantly came to Boston last summer after the Lakers traded him in the aftermath of their Shaq-and-Kobe disaster. He is averaging 12.1 points and 6.1 assists this season, below his career averages of 17.7 and 7.2.

At 36, Payton was seen as a possible mentor for 23-year-old Marcus Banks. But with the trade of Payton and Welsch the Celtics will now give Banks a chance to learn on the court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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