Boston Celtics

Allen and Jefferson made the Rookies roster in the got milk? Rookie Challenge at All-Star 2005.
Tim Defrisco/NBAE/Getty Images
No. 18, No. 50, No. 53 (from Sacramento)
Gary Payton (unrestricted)
Justin Reed (team option)
Antoine Walker (unrestricted)
2004: 15. Al Jefferson, Prentiss HS, Miss.
24. Delonte West, St. Josephís
25. Tony Allen, Okla. St.
40. Justin Reed, Miss.
2003: 16. Troy Bell, B.C.
20. Dahntay Jones, Duke
56. Brandon Hunter, Ohio Univ.
2002: 50. Darius Songaila, Wake Forest
2001: 10. Joe Johnson, Arkansas
11. Kedrick Brown, Okaloosa-Walton C.C.
21. Joseph Forte, North Carolina
2000: 11. Jerome Moiso, UCLA
By Bill Evans

When the 2004-05 season began: On the heels of championships by the Red Sox and Patriots, anything less than a championship would be a disappointment. After squeaking into the playoffs in 2003-04, the Celtics were hoping the arrival of coach Doc Rivers and floor general Gary Payton could elevate Boston into the top half of the Eastern Conference standings.

What happened? The Celtics realized a number of best case scenarios in 2004-05.

1) Raef LaFrentz, who had missed so much of the previous season, played in 80 games, averaging 11.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and displaying shooting skills to rival that of any big man in the NBA.

2) Antoine Walker got a second chance in Boston. Employee No. 8, dealt by Danny Ainge before the 2003-04 season, came back to the Celtics in a trade deadline move with Atlanta. A catalyst of the Celtics late-season run, Walker averaged 16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Boston was 16-8 in his 24 starts.

3) Gary Payton parlayed his stubbornness into a full season in Boston. Dealt to Atlanta on February 24 in the trade for Walker, a devastated Payton elected not to go to Atlanta, and was waived by the Hawks on March 1. Three days later, he returned to the Celtics, and resumed a comeback year in which he averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 assists.

4) The Celts remained injury free. Only Al Jefferson, who missed 11 games, was out for more than a game or two. Three players (Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount) appeared in all 82 games.

5) Their division lacked a dominant team. Philadelphia and New Jersey both enjoyed second-half revivals, but neither team could catch Boston, which won the Northeast with a 45-37 record.

As a result of the above, and the usual All-Star caliber play of Pierce, the Celtics won the Northeast. They were Ďupsetí in the first round when Indiana won the winner-take-all game of their best-of-seven series.

What now? Criticized for trading away Walker and others the previous season, Danny Ainge quietly made the Celtics younger and more athletic. Now, he can add another piece with the 18th overall pick in the draft.

Point guard is a need with Paytonís age and impending free agency. Delonte West has been groomed to inherit the job, but the Celtics need insurance, and perhaps a veteran import, for the most important position on the floor.

Walker is the teamís other unrestricted free agent. Itís hard to imagine him back at an eight-figure salary, particularly with the development of Jefferson. At a lesser price, perhaps his veteran influence and rebounding are worth bringing back.

Assuming Walker and Payton donít come back, Pierce and Davis have the most NBA tenure on the Celtics. Both players have battled bouts of selfishness during their careers, so some veteran mentors, regardless of position, would be welcome.