SALT LAKE CITY -- For a team coming off two devastating losses, the mood in the Celtics' locker room was lighthearted before last night's game against the Jazz at the Delta Center. Paul Pierce entertained Kendrick Perkins and rookies Tony Allen and Al Jefferson with jokes. Unquestionably, the playful mood was due to the return of Antoine Walker. Pierce knows he will face less pressure on and off the court with Walker around.
"It's good to have him back," said Pierce. "We hated to lose Gary Payton, but Antoine brings versatility to the squad. He's a guy who's been in the wars and he's going to help us with this playoff push. [The chemistry] is going to take some time. We can just go out and play basketball, but you have to understand it's a whole new coaching staff, a whole new system. We've got to make adjustments. I'm still making adjustments to what's going on, even though I've gotten a lot better since the year has progressed.
"It's going to be an adjustment at first for him to understand what's going on, but he's going to be fine. He's a basketball player. He understands the game. He's a guy you can go to. He can command double teams. He's versatile and can spread the floor. He's an All-Star. He's a matchup problem for anyone at that position. He's going to take some pressure off of me. He gives me some breathing room from putting all the pressure on me to score."
Coach Doc Rivers made significant changes to the starting lineup. Delonte West is the starting point guard for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Mark Blount moved to the bench and Raef LaFrentz started at center. Rivers said he would remain flexible, but he likes West on the floor for the opening tip and Marcus Banks coming off the bench.
"Because Antoine is a guy that can handle the ball, Delonte can play off the ball sometimes," said Rivers. "So, it's another shooter on the floor for us. The other reason I like Delonte is because I think he's the better defender. Marcus puts more pressure on the ball, but Delonte is probably a better team defender."
Add to come
Although Danny Ainge's next move remains uncertain, the executive director of basketball operations will add a player to the roster. Although that player could be Payton, veteran point guard Kenny Anderson, who was waived by Atlanta Thursday, is a strong candidate. Anderson will clear waivers Monday at 3 p.m., and like Walker, he would welcome a return trip to Boston. "I left Boston on a high note and I liked playing with Paul and Antoine," said Anderson, when reached by phone in Los Angeles. "I like the team they have. It would be real comfortable there." . . . League rules prevented Walker from getting his No. 8 back. Jefferson is wearing the number. "I'm going to get it back next year," said Walker. When asked how much he thought he would have to pay Jefferson for the number, Walker said, "I don't know, I haven't talked to the rook. I'm going to get to him before he gets to next year because he might be a little more cocky. I'm going to get to him this year. I'm going to cut him a check early." For the record, Jefferson said he would be willing to give up No. 8 for free . . . With only 10 active players, Rivers said the Celtics planned to petition the league to see if Justin Reed could come off the injured list early, but the coach was not optimistic. Reed (right knee tendinitis) will serve his fifth and final game when the Celtics play the Suns tomorrow . . . Allen suffered a mild right ankle sprain with 10:46 left in the first quarter, but he returned later in the period . . . Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and his wife attended the game . . . John Havlicek will have his No. 5 retired at Ohio State tomorrow. He will be the fifth player in school history so honored . . . Charity is the winner after the single-day naming rights for the FleetCenter on Tuesday ended in a settlement. A New York lawyer was the