The rebuilding begins. To wit: A bargain free agent starts at point
By Ian Thompsen
Team Page | Conference ranking: 9 | Overall ranking: 20
Ever since they dealt Kenny Anderson to Seattle last year for Vin Baker, the Celtics have lacked a first-rate point guard. That void became more pronounced on Monday after they traded returning starter Tony Delk and leading assist man Antoine Walker to the Mavericks. Both Marcus Banks, whom Boston drafted out of UNLV at No. 13 in June, and second-year guard Jiri Welsch, who arrived in the deal with Dallas, are months away from being able to run the offense.
For now, the best solution may turn out to be a 28-year-old free agent who spent the last two years with the Heat after toiling in Europe and the CBA. Don't be fooled by Mike James's humble pedigree; his fans include Pat Riley, who has called James the hardest worker he's ever coached. "Mike takes care of the ball, his shot selection is very good, he hits the open man, and he spent two years playing Riley's defense," Boston coach Jim O'Brien says. O'Brien expects James to knock down the open jumpers he'll get playing alongside Paul Pierce as well as free Pierce from having to initiate the half-court offense.
In 1994 James snagged Duquesne's last scholarship after an assistant coach spotted him in a Long Island pickup game. As a senior he was deemed athletic enough to compete in the slam-dunk contest at the Final Four, but James went undrafted. Last season he grabbed O'Brien's attention when he hit the decisive trey in a Miami win at Boston. The 6'2" James was known as a good-natured braggart in the Heat locker room, but that confidence saw him through a career in obscurity to this opportunity. "I've always been a hard worker," says James, who received a one-year, $638,679 contract. "That's gotten me to this point." The Celtics hope he's ready to fill a role that's only getting larger.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Celtics
"They're no longer a playoff team after trading their two most experienced playmakers, Antoine Walker and Tony Delk, to the Mavs on Monday for Raef LaFrentz, Chris Mills, Jiri Welsch and a first-round pick in 2004. New G.M. Danny Ainge decided this summer that this team had peaked, so he's dismantling it and will rebuild with an eye toward a more athletic, up-tempo lineup.... LaFrentz gives Boston a shot blocker, and he can be a slightly better rebounder and defender than Walker, but overall this trade downgraded the Celtics. Walker was vital to everything they did -- he ran the offense, was their best rebounder and rallied his teammates in the locker room.... Without Walker to share the load, Paul Pierce has to take responsibility for elevating the play of his teammates. Can he improve his shot selection while defenses key on him more than ever? His three-point percentage fell from 40.4 in 2001-02 to 30.2 last year, and it got so bad that we were telling our guys to let him prove he could make the three-pointer. That's something we never would have said two years ago.... They'll also concentrate on developing Kedrick Brown, the former junior college swingman who was a Number 1 pick in 2001. He's an athletic rebounder and defender who could give them a lot of energy, but he has to knock down jump shots or else the defense will sag on Pierce even more.... Vin Baker has lost a ton of weight since he went into alcohol rehab last spring, but his knees are still bothering him. They're counting on getting absolutely nothing from him, so anything he can do inside will be a bonus.... Ainge and coach Jim O'Brien have long-term contracts, so they can afford to take a step backward. Still, their fans are going to be upset, because this team won't play with as much intensity now that its leader is gone."
Issue date: October 27, 2003