Celtics deal Davis, Blount
They land Szczerbiak, Olowokandi in swap with Minnesota
Ricky Davis is heading to Minnesota as one of seven players in a deal that brings Wally Szcerbiak to Boston. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
The Celtics sent Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed, and two conditional second-round picks to the Timberwolves yesterday in exchange for Michael Olowokandi, Wally Szczerbiak, Dwayne Jones of the development league, and a conditional first-round pick likely to be exercised in 2008.
The deal does not come as a surprise. The Celtics wanted to deal Blount and Banks before the Feb. 23 trading deadline.
Sending Blount to Minnesota clears playing time for young big men Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins, and rids executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge of a long-term financial headache. Szczerbiak becomes the offensive complement to Paul Pierce, bringing his impressive field goal percentage (50 percent) and 20.1 points per game to Boston. Jones leads the Florida Flame with 11.3 rebounds per game. Overall, the Celtics save approximately $5 million.
Almost two weeks ago, the teams were close to completing a straight swap, Blount for Olowokandi. Talks between Ainge and Minnesota regained serious momentum over the past 24 hours. The Timberwolves were interested in acquiring Ron Artest, but once Indiana officially dealt him to the Kings Wednesday, it apparently cleared the way for an expanded deal between Boston and Minnesota. Olowokandi and Szczerbiak are scheduled to arrive in Boston from Houston this afternoon and take physicals. As of late last night, Celtics officials were uncertain if they would be in uniform for tonight's game against the Kings, though they are hopeful Olowokandi and Szczerbiak will be available to play. The former teammates will certainly face each other when Boston plays at Minnesota on Monday.
''We feel like we were moving Mark to free up minutes and opportunities for Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson," said Ainge after confirming the deal last night. ''We wanted to make it easier for the development of Kendrick and Al. That's a priority of ours.
''We feel Wally can complement Paul in a different way. Wally is a high-percentage shooter and he's a better post-up player. But more than anything, he's just different than Ricky. We have a couple of young, athletic wings in Gerald Green and Tony Allen. Wally is a better shooter than everybody in this deal. More than anything, we just want to see how it all works. We believe [Pierce and Szczerbiak] will be a great combination."
Szczerbiak is the only player in the deal likely to see significant playing time with the Celtics, especially considering how much coach Doc Rivers relied on Davis, who ranks among the league leaders with 41.6 minutes per game. In 40 starts with Minnesota this season, the 6-foot-7-inch Szczerbiak averaged 38.9 minutes. After this season, Szczerbiak has three years and $36 million remaining on his contract.
''We like Ricky," said Ainge. ''This is not about us getting rid of Ricky. This is about us getting an All-Star small forward that's different. Wally brings more to the table than just being a shooter. I've always liked his toughness, his intensity, and his consistency as a shooter."
The 7-foot Olowokandi averaged 6.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 23.5 minutes in 32 appearances (24 starts) for Minnesota this season. He is in the final year of his contract and is owed $5.9 million. But don't expect to see a lot of Olowokandi on the court given the Celtics' commitment to Jefferson and Perkins. Though Olowokandi's agent, Bill Duffy, said last night, ''It couldn't have gotten any worse for Michael in Minnesota," it may not get a lot better in Boston. Duffy has spoken to Ainge about either releasing, buying out, or trading Olowokandi if he does not fit into the Celtics' immediate plans.
Blount's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the situation was far from ideal for his client in Boston. After an extremely disappointing 2004-05 season, Blount and Bartelstein talked with Rivers and Ainge last summer. Blount arrived at training camp determined to reclaim the form he showed when playing for his six-year, $38 million contract with a 15 percent trade kicker.
Blount started the first 11 games of the season but his inconsistent play, particularly on the glass, led Rivers to demote him to the bench. Blount did not play because of a coach's decision Nov. 25 against Charlotte. He has bounced between the bench and starting lineup since. Despite an increasingly limited role, Blount averaged 12.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 27.8 minutes.
''It's a new opportunity," said Bartelstein, who also represents Reed. ''Things weren't going great for Mark in Boston. A change of scenery might be good for him now. He gave everything he could in Boston, but for whatever reason, things weren't going well for him. Mark, like Justin, is appreciative of everything the Celtics have done for him.
''Any time you sign a long-term contract you hope it works out. You hope it's a great marriage and leads to long-term success. Obviously, it didn't happen [with Blount]. There wasn't a great connection between him and Doc. I don't think it's anyone's fault. It wasn't going in the right direction. Once it was clear the Celtics were going with younger guys, it was clear Mark was too good a player and his salary was too big for him to be sitting on the bench. So, they tried to make a deal that would be good for both sides. It would have been a disaster for the Celtics and for Mark to have him on the bench not playing."
The Celtics were comfortable adding Banks and Reed to the deal because Ainge and Rivers see more potential in rookies Orien Greene and Ryan Gomes. Greene decisively won the backup point guard role once Banks returned from an injury, while Boston has a longer-term investment (two years after this season) and sees more potential in Gomes, who competed with Reed for minutes and a spot on the active roster. Another part of the future may be Jones, a former teammate of Delonte West at Saint Joseph's, who the Celtics will closely monitor in the development league.
''He's playing really well," said Ainge. ''We'll give him an opportunity, not necessarily now, but we'll see how he fits into our plans. We'll give him an opportunity to be part of our future."
In the end, this deal is about the present in terms of playing the kids and about the future in terms of clearing salary for the Celtics.