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Money for nothing and your picks for free

By Gabe Kahn

[Note: You guys were right, I screwed up the 125% trade rule. That's what you get for waiting until 3am to do some of your research! With that in mind, the story has been updated, although that one component didn't change things all that much.]

The largest trade in NBA history, eh?

Yesterday's transaction that netted the Celtics two second round picks, Curtis Borchardt, Quyntel Woods, the rights to Albert Miralles, cash considerations and, all together, a $5.5 million trade exception doesn't really fit my description of a "blockbuster," given that the best players involved were, in no particular order, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Eddie Jones. However, it certainly was big, at least in terms of the number of bodies (and future bodies) being moved around. At last count it was up to 13 players and five teams. I would list them all here but I'm afraid I would run out of ink (rim shot!).

So let's schmooze for a bit about this monster.

I'm sure that the casual Celtic fan is looking at this transaction and wondering, "Why did the Celtics just trade a guy who averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds during his career for a couple of late draft picks and three players who might never play for Boston and might not be good enough to, either?"

The simplest answer to all of this was that the Celtics did not really trade Walker, they merely facilitated his departure, which was imminent. Antoine was an unrestricted free agent and, according to most sources, would have signed with the Heat for their Mid Level Exception if this deal hadn't worked out, leaving the Celtics with nothing in return for the veteran former All Star. By signing Walker to his brand new six-year, $53 million contract and then shipping him off, the Celtics were able to salvage something from a player that, by all indications, they had no interest in keeping.

Of course, the next question is why didn't the Celtics want 'Toine back? Firstly, the C's might have been interested in re-signing the player they drafted out of Kentucky in 1996 had he been willing to accept a shorter deal, in the three-year range. Reportedly, and not unexpectedly, he was not. Also, the organization was unhappy with the Celtics' play not too long after Walker returned to the team in February. Though the Green had been extremely active and efficient on offense prior to Walker's arrival, they adopted up a stand and shoot strategy after about 15 games with Walker back. The team believed that Walker was at fault for this. Finally, Celtics' Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge decided to emphasize the youth on this club and Walker would be taking the place of Al Jefferson in the starting lineup and at the end of games had he stayed. That just didn't sit well with the Celtics braintrust, of which we hope Jon Niednagel was not included.

If you'll accept the premise that Antoine's 34 game cameo in Boston was always going to be his farewell tour, then you have to agree that the Celtics essentially got something for absolutely nothing. Today, many people will be asking exactly what this "something" was. Let's start with the players involved, even though they are the most minor part of the entire deal: Miralles, a Spanish center, will be staying put in his native land for at least the coming season. He may help the Celtics in the future. Or he may not. Either way, the Celtics will take a flyer on him and see if his game develops at all over the next few years. The lovely and talented Quyntel Woods, who, now that it occurs to me is neither lovely nor talented (he being of the Pit-Bull fighting fame), will, in all likelihood, never play a game for the Celtics. He will either be waived outright or his expiring contract could be packaged with another contract at some point before the season in a trade, most likely the former. Although the Celtics have not made their intentions with Borchardt entirely clear to this point, they may elect to keep the 7-footer, and, if healthy, he could earn some playing time with this young squad.

The two second rounders were a key to this deal as well. Yes, the whole world knows that Rashard Lewis, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer and Michael Redd were second round steals. But more importantly, Ainge has already picked up guys like Brandon Hunter and Justin Reed who were able to help the big club (with Reed looking primed for a regular spot in the rotation this season) and he just inked Ryan Gomes and Orien Greene to multi-year contracts. The jury is still very much out on Greene, but I've seen more than enough of Gomes to believe that his play will pay off for years to come. And remember, this gives Ainge, who has a pretty decent drafting record, a stab at a couple more players (or trade bait) at no cost, accept to Wyc+Co's checkbook, which shouldn't upset Greenophytes all that much.

Finally, we come to the most important element of this deal, the trade exception. The C's received two exceptions, one from Utah and one from Miami. As allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the exceptions were combined into a tidy $5.5 million. This means that the Celtics can trade for another player who makes up to $5.5 million within the next 365 days without giving up anything else. A quick look outside the division shows Jamaal Tinsley, Jeff Foster, Etan Thomas, Brendan Haywood, Marquis Daniels, Moochie Norris, Brian Cardinal, Eduardo Najera and Brian Skinner and many others as being players who could fit into this exception should the Celtics want one of them and their current team wants to take their salary off the books. Acquiring one of these players might silence fans angry that Ainge used most of the Celtics' Mid Level Exception on Brian Scalabrine.

There is still one more unanswered question: Why did the Celtics help out a competitor in their conference? I'll start by saying that I'm not convinced that Walker's presence makes Miami all that much better than before. In fact, I think negatives may wash out his positives completely, especially given that he'll be taking shots away from Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. But the real answer is that by the time these Celtics are ready to compete for a title in three to four years, Shaq will already be eyeing retirement very closely if he's not there already. It's plain to see that the Big Aristotle in decline and that will only continue as he gets older and the injuries keep piling up.

Personally, I'm happy that Antoine finally got paid. He gave Boston seven-plus years of his heart and soul and, though his game must have induced several nervous breakdowns throughout New England, he acted with dignity and left us with some fond memories. Even the second time around. It will be hard to forget his 24 point 10 board welcome back game against Utah, his 33 points and 13 rebounds against Phoenix or the way he bailed Paul Pierce out of game 6 in Indiana.

Good for Antoine. And good for Danny, who somehow pulled offthe biggest trade in NBA history without giving up anything.

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