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Deal has bad exchange rate

Club had started to hit its stride

Maybe down the road, say in 2008 or 2009, Ricky Davis, Paul Pierce, and Raef LaFrentz will be front and center as the Celtics celebrate that long awaited championship No. 17 with a City Hall rally and the presentation of the championship trophy by Commissioner Shaquille O'Neal. That's about the only way to look positively at yesterday's six-player deal with the Cavaliers, which tore a large hole in the 2003-04 Celtics.

 

Danny Ainge (who was roundly booed during the Cedric Maxwell retirement ceremony) has again made another move which, in effect, is saying, "I'm not really concerned with this year. I don't care how many wins we get." First, he traded Antoine Walker. Then, he told LaFrentz to have surgery when the coaching staff thought LaFrentz could help them while not worsening his tendinitis. Asked if LaFrentz's situation had any impact on the trade, Ainge said, "Absolutely not. That would mean that I'm looking at short-term results. And I'm not."

No kidding.

Ainge took a team on a five-game winning streak with a decent chance of actually winning the division title and, against the express wishes of his coaching staff, put a flamethrower to the 2003-04 season.

He dealt away Eric Williams, one of the undeniable leaders, and Tony Battie, one of the team's best "plus-minus" guys, who also was a decent defensive player. He basically told the coaching staff that whatever chemistry they had established, whatever karma that had kicked in to enable them to start winning, was not important.

"I certainly don't underestimate chemistry, although I think chemistry can be established," Ainge said.

The third Celtic to go, Kedrick Brown, couldn't play. (Why the Celtics even extended him to Year 4 is a mystery.) He was a wasted pick and this deal finally closes the book on the disastrous 2001 draft, in which the Celtics took Joe Johnson, Brown, and Joseph Forte with the 10th, 11th, and 21st picks. We won't go into the alternatives because, frankly, it'll make you sick.

But Williams was maybe the one guy in the locker room who could stand up to Pierce and, when he was here, Walker as well. He'd be there when Pierce and the high-maintenance Davis get into it. There was no masking Jim O'Brien's disappointment in this one. O'Brien said Ainge told him about the possible deal on Saturday and, said O'Brien, "I told him my viewpoints." The coaching staff lobbied against the deal; they saw what we all see, a team with a chance, and saw no reason to blow it up. Now, they basically have to start from scratch.

No, this year's Celtics team wasn't all that great. But it was finally starting to find itself and was, as Ainge had hoped, entertaining to watch and scoring some points. And, given what's going on in New Jersey (where Byron Scott is walking the plank) and in Philadelphia (where everyone is hurt), this Celtics team, warts and all, had to be considered at least a threat to win the Atlantic title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. You like the Knicks better? The Magic, Heat, or Wizards?

None of that matters to Ainge, who has his long-term viewer on 24/7. Davis is the centerpiece of the deal and can be, as Minnesota boss Kevin McHale acknowledged, "a handful." Let's put it this way: Paul Silas, who almost everyone likes, can't stand the guy. This is the player about whom the word "selfish" is used in the same way as "corpulent" is used to describe Shawn Kemp. Davis is now with his fourth team in six seasons (fifth if you count his short stay with the Timberwolves following his signed offer sheet) and he is best known for (a) alienating LeBron James, (b) shooting at his own basket while hoping to get a rebound for a triple double and (c) dissing Pat Riley on his way out of Miami.

Ainge called Davis a "spectacular talent." McHale likes Davis, too. "I think Ricky Davis needs a change of scenery," McHale said last night. "He's a real talented kid. I think he can be fine here." Davis, 24, is athletic, gifted and, according to Ainge, "very, very excited" about the deal. Davis should be. He has worn out every other welcome he's had.

Davis also is a favorite of the so-called brain doctor, Jonathan Niednagel, who has helped both McHale and Ainge make player evaluations and judgments. Ainge is known to rely heavily on the advice of Niednagel, who heads the Brain Typing Institute. "[Niednagel] has more credibility in my eyes than anyone I've been around in the world of sports in terms of talent evaluation," Ainge said last spring after taking the Boston job. McHale relied on Niednagel when he signed Davis to an offer sheet in 2002.

Davis has five years left on his deal at pretty good numbers (after this year, there's about $24 million remaining). Michael Stewart (we now have our own Yogi in Boston) has two years left. Rick Pitino was hot on him a while back. Chris Mihm, who had started to play well for Cleveland, is still on Year 4 of his rookie contract.

The long-term view Ainge holds sees no Williams here next year anyway, because Williams was in the final year of his contract. But why automatically count Williams out? He has been one of O'Brien's favorites. Battie, like Williams, played hurt and was a big factor in turning the Celtics from laughingstock to playoff team. But Battie also has been on the block for a while.

O'Brien diplomatically deferred to Ainge -- "he has the final authority" -- but he sounded like a losing politician congratulating the winner on election night. O'Brien may have been torn about the Walker deal. There was no such feeling on this one. "We're losing three guys, two veterans in Eric Williams and Tony Battie, and it's very painful."

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