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12-17-2003, 02:33 PM
Ainge has taken charge in Boston

As much as it might hurt Antoine Walker to hear and head coach Jim O'Brien to say, the Boston Celtics now undeniably belong to Danny Ainge, and there isn't anything anyone can do about it except sit back and wait for the next move.

That's right . . . the next move.

"Unless you have the guts to make decisions that are unpopular with your coach or with the fans or the media, then you don't deserve the director of basketball operations," O'Brien said in defense of Ainge in the Boston Herald. "He's not having a problem making tough decisions. Are we closer to being a better basketball team as a result of the trades he has made? My answer is absolutely."

In case you've lost track, in less than one season, Ainge has completely revamped the Celtic roster by trading away Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Eric Williams, Tony Battie and Kedrick Brown. In exchange, he got Ricky Davis, Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mihm, Chris Mills, Michael Stewart, a 2004 first-round pick and a 2004 second-round pick.

But if you thought it was hard reading all those names, imagine how hard it is for O'Brien to figure out his new offensive and defensive schemes as well as substitution patterns and seating charts on the plane, etcetera.

So don't think this has been easy for anyone.

Danny Ainge wasted little time flexing his muscle has Celtics GM.
"Once you get in the fray and you're with guys every day and you're fighting your butts off and you challenge a group of guys that are 7-12 and you see them respond at a level that is wonderful," said O'Brien in the Boston Globe. "You see how happy they are with themselves and you see the effort and guys playing hurt. Then, all of a sudden, when three guys are leaving you, you'd be the coldest guy in the world not to think, `Gee, this hurts. It hurts them. It hurts us.' It's painful."

But make no mistake about it. This is what Ainge wanted and this is what Ainge got. And O'Brien is siding with Ainge.

"I thought it was the best thing for Antoine Walker, considering the team he was going to, and I thought it was the best thing for the Boston Celtics, thinking about where we wanted to grow this to," O'Brien said.

"We wanted more movement in our offense, and having understood that we were not going to (extend) Antoine this year and all the ramifications of that -- both from his standpoint and my standpoint in coaching this basketball team -- I really thought at that time it was going to be the best for all parties. And I think I'm right."

And to make it perfectly clear . . .

"I expressed the opinion to Danny when all the cards were on the table and we knew we were getting Raef, and I knew how high Danny was on Jiri, and we were getting a first (round draft pick) and we'd have some money to maybe pick up somebody -- and wanting Antoine to succeed, and know that he was going to Don Nelson and that group -- I thought it was a win-win. That's what I expressed.

"I think that this team in the long run needed some big-time changes. Was it easy for me to have big changes at this point in time? No, because you're involved. And I don't apologize for the passion that we are involved with.

"But in order for us to compete year in and year out for an Eastern Conference championship, there had to be some drastic changes made. And there probably has to be some more changes made. I think the team Danny has put together, when all is said and done this year, is going to be very, very difficult to guard, and, if I have my way, will be difficult to (score) against."

Did you get that last part?

Despite the fact that the Celtics have traded away five players who totaled 49.1 points, 24.6 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 4.6 steals and 2.1 blocks per game last season, they still might not be done.

To put that in perspective in terms of quality, Walker being an all-star, and in terms of quantity, those five players averaged 136 minutes of a 240-minute game, the Celtics have done away with 53 percent of their points, 60 percent of their rebounds, 51 percent of their assists, 52 percent of their steals and 57 percent of their blocks.

But they've still got the same coach and, like it or not, they've still got the same guy pulling all the strings.

"It is what it is," O'Brien said of he and Ainge. "He and I are in a partnership, and we have our jobs to do. He's doing his very well, and I hope he thinks that I'm doing my job very well. When he came he said we need to be more athletic, we need more scorers, we need more guys who know how to play basketball. He was very straightforward. He said, 'I'm going to change things around.' And I welcome the change. I had no idea that as we made these changes there might be a day like yesterday, but that shouldn't stop him from doing his job and being objective."

And then he said it again.

"I'd call it a building project," said O'Brien. "When [Ainge] came in, he said, 'We need to be more athletic. We need more scorers. We need more guys who know how to play basketball.' He was very straightforward. He said, 'I'm going to change things around.' I welcomed the change. I had no idea that as we made these changes that there might be a day like [Monday], where it was painful to a certain extent. But that shouldn't stop him from doing his job and being objective -- I think he made the right decision."

For Lakers, free throws are the game plan

Everyone wanted an investigation into the so-called atrocity that occurred Nov. 19 at Madison Square Garden. You remember: The visiting Lakers shot 47 free throws to the Knicks' six in a 104-83 L.A. victory.

Well, the investigation has been filed, and the report released: The Lakers probably could have shot 50 free throws that day, while the Knicks probably could have been held to five.

As the numbers indicate, there is no better team in the NBA at getting to the free throw line than the Los Angeles Lakers, and there is no worse team in the NBA at getting to the free throw line than the New York Knicks.

On average, the Lakers get 33 free throw attempts per game, while the Knicks get only 17.8.

But what makes the disparity even worse is that the Lakers allow their opponents to get to the line only 24 times a game, while teams take 26.4 free throws per game against the Knicks. Do the math: The Lakers take nine more free throws a game than their opponents, while the Knicks take 8.4 less.

But before we start blaming the referees, let's look at some other stats.

In that notorious November game, the Knicks took 19 3-pointers. The Lakers took eight. On the other hand, Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers's interior force, took 15 shots, while the Dikembe Mutombo, the Knicks' starting center, took three.

Also in that game, Allan Houston, the Knicks' leading scorer and franchise player, took 14 shots but didn't get close enough to the rim to grab even a single rebound. On the season, he is the only player in the NBA to average more than 20 points per game without having made more than 5 free throws per game.

So far, Houston has made 78 free throws this season. The next-lowest among top scorers is point guard Baron Davis, who has 85. On average, the 20-point per game players have made 116 free throws each.

Meanwhile, Shaq was the Lakers' leading scorer that game with 23 points, including 11 of 16 from the line. Karl Malone scored 17 that game, including 7 of 8 from the line. The two also combined for 20 rebounds.

On the season, O'Neal and Malone have taken 519 shots,none of them 3-pointers, while also grabbing 22 rebounds per game. The interior play has resulted in a free throw every 1.5 shots.

But that isn't anything new for these guys. For his career, Malone gets one free throw every 1.9 shots, while Shaq gets one every 1.7 shots. And those are ratios based on a combined 40,401 shots over 31 seasons.

Compare that to Houston's perimeter game of 85 3-pointers in 331 total shots and 2.2 rebounds per game resulting in a free throw every four shots.

Of course, comparing a power forward and a center to a small forward really isn't fair, but that's how the two teams are built. And 47 free throws to six doesn't really seem fair at first sight, but if it was ever going to happen, it was going to happen with these two teams.

Most prolific free-throw shooters

1. Los Angeles Lakers
FT Margin: +9 (33 per game to opponent's 24)
See above.

2. Detroit Pistons
FT Margin: +7.5 (27.8 per game to opponent's 20.3)
The Pistons are an anomaly. They win by playing defense, and they only win by playing defense. Their leading scorer, the point guard, shoots 38 percent from the field, and their second-leading scorer, the shooting guard, shoots 21 percent from 3. They have to win by playing defense. And you don't play good defense by fouling a lot. As a result, they've held opponents to an NBA-low 20.3 free throws per game. That's only 10 a half. That's only five a quarter. That's only going to make it harder and harder for opposing teams to get easy points.

3. Denver Nuggets
FT Margin: +5.4 (29.3 per game to opponent's 23.9)
It has taken Andre Miller almost five years and one assist title to earn the kind of respect he's now getting from NBA officials. It has taken Carmelo Anthony less than 23 games. When Miller was a rookie, he averaged 3.6 free throws per game. By the time he led the league in assists, he was averaging 5.5 per game. This year, he's averaging a career-high 6.1, having shot 141 in 23 games. Anthony, on the other hand, also has taken 141 free throws in 23 games and the number is going up. In November, he averaged 5.1 a game. In December, he's averaging more than 7.3 a game. He already has had three games of double-digit free throws. He had a preseason game with 13. On national TV against LeBron James, he had 12. To put that in even better perspective, the rookie is ninth in the entire league in free throws made and 11th in free throws attempted, despite being only 22nd in scoring. And you thought a R-O-O-K-I-E couldn't get any R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

4. Philadelphia 76ers
FT Margin: +4.3 (26 per game to opponent's 21.7)
Nobody has taken more free throws to this point than Allen Iverson. Not Shaq. Not Tim Duncan. Not Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki combined. Where most guys would be overjoyed to shoot 10 free throws once, perhaps even a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight, this guy has been shooting 10 a game every game for the entire season. For his career, this 6-footer (on his tiptoes) has averaged 8.7 a game. For their careers, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, all 7-foot centers, all bound for the Hall of Fame, averaged 6.1, 8.3 and 6.1 free throws per game, respectively.

5. San Antonio Spurs
FT Margin: +3.8 (27.1 per game to opponent's 23.3)
Tim Duncan is Tim Duncan. He scores in double figures. He rebounds in double figures. He leads the league in double-double figures. Day in, day out, he is Tim Duncan. For his career, he has averaged 7.6 free throws a game. This year, he's averaging 7.9 free throws a game. The difference for the Spurs, though, isn't the big guy from the Virgin Islands. It's the skinny kid from Argentina. Manu Ginobili went from 171 free throws in 69 games last year to 111 free throws in the first 26 games this year. And what is making an even bigger difference is that where Duncan is shooting 65 percent from the line, Ginobili is shooting 81 percent.

Least prolific free-throw shooters

29. New York Knicks
FT Margin: -8.4 (17.8 per game to opponents' 26.4)
See above.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves
FT Margin: -4.5 (17.8 per game to opponent's 22.3)
Where do we start? Only one player has shot more than 83 free throws so far this year, and only two players have shot more than 62. The team's new starting center, Ervin Johnson, has four free throws and five starts, while the team's old starting center, Michael Olowokandi, had 13 free throws in 15 games. Latrell Sprewell has more 3-point attempts than free throw attempts. Trenton Hassell has committed 60 personal fouls but shot only nine free throws. It takes Sam Cassell, the team's second-leading scorer, almost six shots to get one free throw. There are three players on the team who have played but not shot a single freebie. Where do we end?

27. Miami Heat
FT Margin: -3.9 (22.8 per game to opponents' 26.7)
It's a good thing Eddie Jones is shooting 83 percent from the free-throw line, because, as we speak, the poor guy is in a career-low 37 percent funk from the field and career-low 31 percent from distance. But even so, he's still the best thing the Heat have in the scoring column. Of course, it doesn't say much in a story on free throws when the same poor guy is on pace to shoot 525 3-pointers when he's never shot more than 389 in any previous season. Go to the rim. Go to the rim. Eddie Jones, please go to the rim.

26. Atlanta Hawks
FT Margin: -3.8 (22.7 per game to opponents' 26.6)
Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Jason Terry have made 220 free throws so far. The other 10 guys on the team have made 221. That's an inordinate amount of made free throws considering that those two only take about 33 percent of the team's shots and score about 40 percent of the team's points. But when the rest of your starting lineup sometimes includes the likes of Travis Hansen, Boris Diaw and Jacque Vaughn, you aren't going to get many calls.

25. Phoenix Suns
FT Margin: -3.5 (21.8 per game to opponents' 25.3)
Shawn Marion is a great free-throw shooter. As a rookie, he shot 84 percent from the line. Last year, he shot 85 percent from the line. This year, he's shooting 89 percent from the line. The only problem is that he doesn't get to the line enough. On average, he shoots only three free throws a game -- this season and over his career. By comparison, Amare Stoudemire, the team's best post player, gets a free throw every 2.3 shots he takes. Stephon Marbury, the team's best perimeter player, get a free throw every 3.5 shots. And Marion, you'd think, as the team's all-star small forward, would be somewhere in between ... right? Wrong. He's at one free throw for every 5.5 shots this year.

Peep Show

Atlanta Hawks: Losing is one thing. Losing the same way day in and day out is another. "We go out and play to lose every single night, and we don't change what it is we need to do," center Theo Ratliff said in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I don't understand how your team can go out and play the exact same way and lose the exact same way every time on the floor --- have the same mistakes constantly made. It's crazy to me, [and] for it not to be addressed is beyond my imagination. I can't call it." And if that sounds a bit harsh, then that's the way Ratliff wanted it to sound. "Every team knows that if you drive on [the Hawks], the only person you have to worry about is me standing back there," Ratliff said, "because nobody is going to help each other. That's bad basketball, and it's why we've got the record we've got. . . . We're talking about we aren't as bad as our record. That's a lie. We are as bad as our record. That's why we keep getting our [butts] whipped."

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Star Tribune is reporting that Wally Szczerbiak may be out of action until after the all-star break after a foot specialist recommended total inactivity for the all-star for another four weeks. Szczerbiak is suffering from a strained plantar fascia in his foot and has yet to play a single minute this year. "We'll put our heads together and come up with something in the next couple days," vice president Kevin McHale said. "We need to figure it out soon."

New Jersey Nets: First, Jason Kidd denied ever yelling in the locker room following a horrendous Net defeat. Now, he's denying that he ever yelled at his teammates, and the New York Daily News is reporting that he was, instead, yelling at his coaching staff. "What people don't realize is that some teams spend more time together than most families do," Kidd said. "That is how close we are and it is okay to vent and it shows heart and passion. If you're team didn't have that, that is when you should be worried. Everybody can make a guess at who (the outburst) was directed at, but everybody on the team and the coaching staff all know it was directed at everybody including myself." Even head coach Byron Scott wouldn't deny a thing after Kenyon Martin joined in. "They made some good points," he said. "As a coach you've got to listen to your players and apply it."

Orlando Magic: This may be the pot calling the kettle black but so be it. "We got selfish," Tracy McGrady said in the Orlando Sentinel of his team and its latest loss. "We forgot about team ball. Guys just started doing their own thing, trying to get their numbers. Then other guys got frustrated and it carries over to the defense. Things went on that shouldn't go on." Even new coach Johnny Davis isn't trying to put a positive spin on it. "Some guys played selfish in the second half, and that's the first I've seen that," said Davis, who added a new element to the criticism. "We're not that good to play casually."

Denver Nuggets: Don't look now but Marcus Camby and the Denver Nuggets are in love . . . again. "I would like to have him back, and I think he'd like to come back," general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said in the Denver Post. "Marcus has been great because he is understanding that we're not done as far as free agents go. We'll have a lot of dollars next year. He wants to help in the process, help recruit free agents, and he understands that he may have to adjust how he is paid. We've talked about a (contract) range. During the season I don't want to negotiate contracts, for the most part. We sort of tabled it for now with the understanding that we are going to come back and readdress it." Camby becomes a free agent at the end of this season after making $7.2 million this year and the Nuggets having $20 million in cap space next season. "It's a good possibility something will get done. It's great because this is where I want to be," Camby said.

Chicago Bulls: When it rains, it pours on the Bulls. The Chicago Sun Times is reporting that Eddy Curry will be out as much as four more weeks with a left knee bruise, joining Tyson Chandler on injured reserve with lower back problems while both of them await news on Scottie Pippen who is out following knee surgery. "I really was surprised," said Curry. "I knew I would have to be out a couple of days, but I wasn't thinking two to four weeks." And there isn't anything coach Scott Skiles can do except wait. "To have this kind of setback is disappointing,'' Skiles said. "We need him to maintain his conditioning while he's out with pool work and those sorts of things. It's disappointing, but he feels bad about it, too. He wants to play, but there's nothing we can do about it."

Detroit Pistons: If the Pistons thought the last four defeats were tough, they had to endure the three tough practices that followed. "Oh yeah," Ben Wallace said in the Detroit News. "We've got everybody's attention now. We understand now that we weren't playing good basketball, not even the last few games that we won. And now that we've got everybody's attention, everyone's been playing a little harder, playing a little more unselfishly, making the extra pass and being more willing to go the extra mile. I don't like teams coming in here and doing the things that we're known for doing and beating us at our own game. I am addicted to winning. I love to win. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win, and I expect my teammates to do the same thing." Even if that means angering off a few teammates by not putting them on the floor regardless of what they do in practice. "I don't know if I will ever be comfortable knowing guys are killing themselves for me and I'm not playing them," head coach Larry Brown said. "But in fairness to these guys, I've got to cut our rotation down and give the guys we decide to play an opportunity to play and become a team. And then hope the guys that aren't playing are the type of individuals I think they are and they will understand it."