Redemption is a word that is bandied about far too often, especially in sports media. Players are often said to be finding redemption when they merely have a good game against a former team. A quick search on ESPN.com revealed 522 articles on that website alone including the word "redemption."
Danny Ainge and Antoine Walker represent cases in which this word would be appropriately used. Ainge and Walker are a curious pair to be tied together in their quest for redemption. Ainge dealt Walker before the 2003-04 season, shortly after taking the helm of the Celtics, and many thought that a personal dislike for Walker and his game fueled the trade.
Now, a season and a half later, Ainge has reacquired Walker, after a time when both of their reputations have been rather unfairly sullied.
Ainge's problems have resulted from a series of questionable personnel moves. As an ex-player from the Celtics last glory days, Ainge's arrival in Boston was greatly celebrated. Here was the bridge from one era of greatness to the next.
However, fans and basketball journalists alike soon began to think otherwise of Ainge. Certain that the team could not win a championship with that core, Ainge scrapped a team which had recently reached the Eastern Conference finals and forced popular coach Jim O'Brian to leave. Ainge seemingly traded popular players for other team's problems, taking on troublesome personalities and even more troublesome contracts. The captain of this revamped squad, Paul Pierce, sulked through games, unable to regain the sublime form that he held only a few years back. The new team, while younger and more athletic, only hovered around .500.
Walker's decline has been much worse. After two All-Star selections early in this decade and four in his career, he has lost the prestige that he once had.
'Toine's year in Dallas was not as fruitful as was hoped. While his versatility seemed greater than ever, he did not collect enough touches to put up the scoring numbers needed for an All-Star selection. And 'Toine needs his touches.
When he was traded to the Hawks for Jason Terry, 'Toine got his touches, but with a terrible supporting cast, his shooting percentage has been low again. A mere two years after being hailed as being one of the more versatile players in the NBA, Walker had been tossed to the side, largely because of the versatility that was so prized earlier in his career.
Danny Ainge received his most vicious and widespread criticism for trading for the embattled Walker at the trading deadline. Most national columnists placed Boston in the 'loser' category among teams that made deadline deals. Even Bob Ryan, a staunch Ainge supporter, remarked that he could no longer defend Ainge's moves after the deal for Toine.
Walker and Ainge are proving their critics wrong now. While Gary Payton was fitting in well with the team, he has been adequately replaced. Young players Marcus Banks and Delonte West have proved they can handle the everyday chores of point guard for this club. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that Celtics coach Doc Rivers has stated that he would be "very, very surprised" if the waived Payton did not resign with Boston this week.
If the Glove returns, it would be a coup for Ainge, who would have essentially traded Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart, and a conditional first-round draft pick for Walker.
Moreover, Walker has brought a competitive fire to the newly-monikered TD BankNorth Garden that had been lacking during the time he was missing. With the major players on this year's Celtics team being the stoic troika of Paul Pierce, Mark Blount, and Raef LaFrentz, Walker adds a boost of much-needed fire. Antoine was dying to get off the lowly Hawks and has been the most enthusiastic player on the court since the trade on and off the court.
The team has fed off of 'Toine's enthusiasm in the past few games. I doubt I have ever seen so many 'Tommy Points' awarded in a three game stretch. The trade has rejuvenated the formerly sullen Pierce, who had his best years with 'Toine as his running mate. Young players have been making big plays, and with the addition of another frontcourt player, Blount can move to the back of the bench where he can't embarrass himself anymore. Everyone wins!
Even ticket sales have received a bounce from the trade. The Boston Herald has reported that sales have increased by 1,000 tickets over the average per day.
It's been a difficult, bizarre route, but 'Toine and Ainge have begun to resurrect their images in this league and more importantly, in Boston. A strong playoff push this year would cement their resurgence in the minds of fans and critics alike.
I'm thrilled that 'Toine has returned?this team has been too boring without him.