Will Mavs make 'Toine walk away?

Updated: April 30, 2004, 1:15 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

It doesn't matter if they keep asking him to play center. Center in the West, no less.

Sitting out a string of fourth quarters apparently hasn't changed his stance, either.

It doesn't even bother Antoine Walker that, on his first day as a Dallas Maverick, his new coach announced to his new team that the new guy would no longer be known as 'Toine.

Walk wants to stay with the Mavs, in spite of all that.

"I don't see why not," Walk says.

The Celtic Formerly Known As 'Toine is one of many Mavericks facing an uncertain future ... and nobody knows exactly what will happen.

What we do know is that, next to Mavericks coach Don Nelson, no one on this team seems to have less of a future in Big D than the guy now known as Walk. He has just one season left on his contract, which makes him a trade asset even with a salary of nearly $14 million, and the widely held assumption is that Walk will be the first player Mark Cuban moves out after deciding Nellie's fate.

That's because Walker, at his Mavericks best, spent too much time on the perimeter hoisting threes, and standing instead cutting after passes, all of which meant Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash didn't have enough of the ball. Walker has since fallen out of favor to the point that he had to agree to play the five spot -- with 10 games to go in the regular season -- if he wanted to play at all.

The move was designed, at least in part, to keep Walker closer to the basket and away from Dallas' pick-and-rollers outside, and he has been mildly productive against the Kings, especially in first quarters. Despite contributing his share of missed layups in a series full of them from the Mavericks, Walker had five rebounds after 12 minutes twice in the past three games.

In fourth quarters, though, you'll see 6-8 Eduardo Najera at center before you see Walker. Or you'll see Dallas' two prized rookies, Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard, flanking Nowitzki, Nash and Michael Finley in a lineup without so much as a faux center.

There is suddenly no room at crunch time for the guy Dallas thought would serve as their fiery, get-in-faces replacement for Nick Van Exel.

Yet Walker swears he can look back fondly on his maiden season away from the Celtics and that he hopes to be brought back.

"It's been a good season," Walker said before the Mavericks' season ended with a 119-118 loss to the Kings. "It was the first time I got traded. I could have been put in some bad situations. When I look back on it, I got an opportunity to play with a bunch of guys that are very good players. I never 50 won games in my career before. Don't get me wrong -- I'd love to be out there (late in games). It's different. It's a very different situation for me. But I would love to be here (next season)."

Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker hopes to hang around Dallas a little longer.
"To be honest, (being traded) is a concern of mine. I don't want to be sent around the league. I know when you're in the last year of your deal, you can become very valuable. I'm very aware of that. But I never wanted to spend my career playing on five or six different teams. That's not something I'm looking forward to doing.

"I think we're very talented, but we have eight new guys on this team. Even scrambling, we won 52 games. We were a great home team that just didn't get it done on the road. With a year with everybody learning each other, we can be very good."

It actually might not be that far-fetched for Walk to get his wish. While Walker would undoubtedly qualify as one of the Mavericks' most tradable commodities between now and next February, because of the contract, Cuban is facing another expensive summer if he does elect to fire Nelson. A coaching change would cost the owner more than $10 million just to send Nelson to Maui, even before he settles on a successor. Cuban also has one marquee free agent (Nash) of his own to re-sign and the tricky case of Daniels -- whom Dallas can't keep if anyone dares to pay the undrafted swingman more than the mid-level exception -- to sort out in addition to exploring the trade options that can put Dallas back among the West's elite.

Don't be surprised, then, if the Mavericks choose to keep Walker, unless they concoct a trade where Walker's new team would also be taking on the contract of, say, Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Cuban figures to be reluctant to trade Walker strictly for a player (or players) with a long-term deal when he has to commit cash in so many other directions.

Don't forget, too, that a big reason Dallas wanted Walker is because of that soon-to-expire contract, whether Walker was a good fit or not. The right to unload a bad contract on Boston in that exchange -- Raef LaFrentz's $70 million deal -- meant the Mavericks had to do it, and Cuban still has three max contracts on the books (Finley, Nowitzki and Antawn Jamison) before you even factor in Nash's expected raise. It's not inconceivable that Walk plays out his final season as a Mav, with the right to walk as a free agent in the summer of 2005.

"I've got another year here, and I want to make the best out of this situation," Walker said. "I know we're very talented, and we can be a lot better than the way we're playing right now."

Walk says so even though he will be fingered as one of the top few scapegoats. Although there was some undeniable sulking in March when he found himself benched temporarily, the truth is Walker played the way Nelson let him for the first 50-odd games.

He didn't protest when Nelson outlawed his trademark shimmy early in the season, and he laughs when he tells the story of Nellie bring Antoine and Antawn together at practice and deciding that Jamison would be called AJ and that the NBA's foremost 'Toine would not be called 'Toine.

"I've always been 'Toine," he said. "But now I'm Walk."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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