Walker hopes to remain in Boston this time around

Updated: February 26, 2005, 6:34 PM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Antoine Walker is thrilled to be a Boston Celtic again.

Antoine Walker
Boston Celtics
53 20.4 9.4 3.7 .415 .534

He's gone from the team with the worst record in the NBA to a division leader as the Celtics enter the playoff stretch. And he's hoping to stay with Boston this time.

"It's only been a year and a half and I'm back. So hopefully I can finish out here. That's my goal and my plan -- to be here for a long time," Walker said Friday after the Celtics' shootaround.

Walker, who was in Boston's starting lineup, scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds in a 109-102 victory at Utah.

The Celtics got him back Thursday in a deadline deal with the Atlanta Hawks, who picked him up in a trade with Dallas last summer.

So after a season with the Mavericks and just five months with the lowly Hawks, Walker is back with the team that chose him in the first round of the 1996 draft.

"Yesterday was a long day, but today is better. I'm excited about the opportunity of being back. And I'm really excited about our team," Walker said. "I can just come be a part of what they've already started and try to make a run at winning this Atlantic Division."

Boston was 27-28 entering Friday night and led Philadelphia by a half-game. But the 76ers also made a significant upgrade for the playoff push, getting Chris Webber in a six-player deal with Sacramento.

With the division leaders hovering around .500, whoever finishes second in the Atlantic might not make the playoffs.

Walker learned of the trade Thursday when he was in Portland with the Hawks. He got a late flight to Salt Lake City and was with the Celtics at the shootaround but did not participate.

The Celtics hope the return of the 6-foot-9 forward will strengthen their frontcourt. Danny Ainge, director of basketball operations, traded Walker to Dallas just before last season and the player was upset.

But on Friday, Walker said there were no grudges.

"When I got traded, me and Danny really never had a relationship. A lot of things were said that was true, untrue. Whatever it is, it's part of the business and part of being a professional," Walker said. "I'm looking forward to being back. The Boston Celtics is bigger than me and Danny Ainge."

The Celtics gave up point guard Gary Payton to get Walker back, but coach Doc Rivers said beefing up Boston's frontcourt was essential, especially with Webber joining Allen Iverson in Philadelphia.

"He's so multidimensional. He does so many things with the basketball," Rivers said of Walker.

Walker is making $14.6 million and is in the final year of his contract. Ainge said after the deal was announced that any discussion about an extension or new contract would wait until the summer.

Boston needs to focus on the playoffs.

Although Walker hasn't played for Rivers in Boston, he's familiar with many of the current Celtics. He and Paul Pierce helped the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals three years ago and Pierce was just as happy about the duo being reunited.

"It's good to have an old teammate, old friend back," Pierce said. "He's an experienced veteran, an All-Star. He's going to add a new dimension to this team."

Walker spent seven years with the Celtics from 1996-2003 and made the All-Star team three times. He has career averages of 20 points and nearly nine rebounds.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press