#13 Boston Celtics Mature play from Antoine Walker and a steady hand from Kenny Anderson are keys to success

February 08, 1999

Whenever anyone asked forward Antoine Walker how he spent his
summer, the answer was always the same: in a pressure cooker. He
got up every morning in his native Chicago and put himself
through a punishing workout, played ball with other pros in the
area and then wondered who was going to benefit from all his
hard work and sweat.

Would it be the Celtics, who drafted him sixth overall in 1996
and heralded him as their next franchise player? Or would it be
the Heat, who began trade talks with Boston after word got out
late last season that Celtics CEO Paul Gaston had no intention
of paying Walker anywhere near the $100 million he would have
commanded as a free agent under the old collective bargaining
agreement? During the labor strife Walker also wondered what a
new agreement would mean for him financially.

All the fretting ended for Walker, 22, when the lockout did.
Under the new guidelines Boston was more than willing--ecstatic,
really--to lock up its young All-Star for the next six years at
a cost of $71.1 million. "I wanted to be a Celtic the rest of my
career," says a relieved Walker.

But can he put the emotional scars from the months preceding the
labor settlement behind him? In addition to worrying that Boston
might unload him, Walker also publicly questioned the caustic
way his coach, Rick Pitino, had treated him. Walker haughtily
declared that he commanded respect because he was a "veteran
All-Star," even though last season's All-Star Game appearance
was his first. That comment brought criticism from fans and the

The Celtics are hoping the immaturity that plagued Walker in his
first two seasons is also behind him. He constantly battled
referees, and often his shot selection was questionable. Yet his
skills are undeniable; few young forwards rebound and bring the
ball up the floor as well as Walker does.

While Boston has done little to add experience to its young
roster, it did get some rebounding help in Popeye Jones, a 6'8"
forward who last played for the Raptors, and Tony Battie, an
athletic 6'11" forward-center who spent last year with the
Nuggets and could fit nicely in Boston's frenetic trapping and
running system.

The X factor will be point guard Kenny Anderson, a midseason
acquisition in '97-98. Although tendinitis in both knees
curtailed Anderson's playing time, his offensive direction
improved Boston's shooting percentage considerably (47.7% when
he was on the court compared with 42.5% when he wasn't). With
Walker, second-year guard Ron Mercer and the team's 1998
first-round draft pick, forward Paul Pierce, the Celtics have
three scorers, but they need Anderson healthy to make sure
someone gets them the ball.


COLOR PHOTO: STEVE LIPOFSKY Locked in Walker's long-term deal makes him, at 22, the cornerstone of a callow club.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Paul Pierce (R)[+] 83 20.4 ppg 6.7 rpg 1.13 bpg 51.3 FG%
PF Antoine Walker 9 22.4 ppg 10.2 rpg 3.3 apg 42.3 FG%
C Andrew DeClercq 197 5.4 ppg 4.8 rpg 0.61 bpg 49.7 FG%
SG Ron Mercer 62 15.3 ppg 3.5 rpg 1.56 spg 45.0 FG%
PG Kenny Anderson 73 12.2 ppg 5.7 apg 1.43 spg 39.8 FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 10

F-C Tony Battie[+] 169 8.4 ppg 5.4 rpg 1.06 bpg 44.6 FG%
G Dana Barros 174 9.8 ppg 3.6 apg 46.1 FG% 40.7 3FG%
F Walter McCarty 210 9.6 ppg 4.4 rpg 2.2 apg 1.34 spg

1997-98 Record: 36-46 (sixth in Atlantic)
Coach: Rick Pitino (second season with Celtics)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at Kansas)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)