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Departing captain saluted

Spotlight grows hotter on Pierce

WALTHAM -- Paul Pierce certainly did not present himself as the player now carrying the future of the Celtics franchise. He walked into the Hall of Fame room at the Celtics' training facility yesterday, taken aback by the reporters seeking his reaction to the Antoine Walker trade. But Pierce will have to get used to the added attention, because, for now, the Celtics are a one-superstar team.

"I've got mixed emotions about it," said Pierce. "For one, I lost a good teammate, somebody who helped build up this organization. But I also lost a friend. Just like I told the guys in the locker room, that's the nature of the business. You can't come in today and mourn about what happened this morning. As we try to move forward and build for the future, we trust in one another, we trust in the management, we trust in the coaches that eventually everything will work out."

In general, Walker's former teammates were surprised by the news. Coach Jim O'Brien met with each player individually before practice in the morning, informing them of the deal. While the players publicly put a positive spin on the deal, it was clear the departure of the cocaptain left at least a temporary void.

"It's shocking to hear news like that, but it's a part of the business sometimes," said Tony Battie. "I'm going to miss his trash talking. He gets you fired up. He was a great leader for us while he was here. He got to play his first seven years with the Celtics. I'll just miss his big head around the locker room. Everything. You develop a camaraderie with these guys because you're with them so much during the duration of the season. You form somewhat of a brotherly bond with these guys."

Eric Williams had the closest bond with Walker. They were friends, teammates, and business partners.

"We were on the phone till, like, 2 o'clock in the morning last night and we reflected a lot," said Williams. "He was here when I got traded. Now, it's funny how I'm here and he was traded. We're always going to be there for each other one way or another.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for us, at the same time, as players. Now, we're totally written off. It's a tremendous opportunity for us a team and it's a tremendous lesson for the young players to understand. Cherish the time that you're here. Put everything you can on the court. Those are some of the lessons I try to get from it. As far as understanding it, I can't because I don't know what's next."

Asked about the timing -- with the season starting next week -- Williams added, "When is the right timing? The players that remain with the Celtics and the new arrivals will have to adjust to different roles, no one more so than Pierce. He will be saddled with more responsibilities on and off the court."

"It definitely puts all the focus on me," said Pierce. "But I think with the talent that we have around here, the number of guys stepping up this year, we're going to be fine. I think we have a number of talented players whose games are just going to have to open up a little bit more this year.

"And we can really see what everybody's made of and what everybody's all about."

The Celtics' remaining captain wants to make sure the trade does not become a distraction, especially with the season so close at hand.

"When you try to mold two new guys [Raef LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch] into the system that haven't been here, it's going to take some time," said Pierce. "We're going to have to be able to work with these new guys. Now, we have to accept them as teammates. The two guys have good basketball minds. So I think the adjustment will come a little bit faster for these guys."

It remains to be seen how quickly the rest of the Celtics will adjust.

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