Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worst NBA Champions: Antoine Walker

worst nba champs - walker
Note that, in his championship wallpaper, Antoine is waving a towel.

On August 2, 2005, the Miami Heat acquired Antione Walker in a five-team, 13-player deal that went down as the largest trade in NBA history. And get this: The trade included Greg Ostertag! I kid you not. I can think of no better way to begin this post.

Anyway, here are the details:

Walker traded by the Boston Celtics to the Miami Heat; the Memphis Grizzlies traded Greg Ostertag (whom they had received from the Sacramento Kings) to the Utah Jazz; the Miami Heat traded Qyntel Woods, Alberto Miralles, a 2006 2nd round draft pick (Edin Bavcic) and a 2008 2nd round draft pick (Nikola Pekovic) to the Boston Celtics; the Miami Heat traded Eddie Jones to the Memphis Grizzlies; the Miami Heat traded Rasual Butler to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets; the Utah Jazz traded Curtis Borchardt to the Boston Celtics; the Utah Jazz traded Raul Lopez to the Memphis Grizzlies; and the Utah Jazz traded Kirk Snyder to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.
Now that's some serious player movement. Actually, it's more like a bowel movement, considering the players involved. But I digress.

The Walker acquisition was part of Heat GM Pat Riley's "all-in" attempt to win a championship before Shaq aged himself out of dominance. To that end, Riley also brought in Gary Payton, Jason Williams and James Posey. Riley believed his team was in an all-or-nothing situation...and history has proven he was right.

Some people might say this is an unfair selection. After all, it could be argued that 'Toine made reasonably significant contributions to the 2005-06 Miami Heat (in fact, Basketbawful reader Arouet did just that in yesterday's comments section).

For the season, Walker averaged 12.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 2.0 APG while shooting a career-high 43.5 percent from the field (yes I said "career high 43.5 percent") and 35.8 percent from downtown (which was the third-best mark of his career). He was the team's fourth leading scorer and his Player Efficiency Rating of 14.4 (which was fifth best on the team) ranked him somewhere between "in the rotation" and a "pretty good player."

So why am I picking Walker? History, dear readers. History.

The Boston Celtics selected Antoine with the sixth overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, ahead of players like Kobe Bryant (the 13th pick) and Steve Nash (the 15th pick). He was supposed to revive a Celtics squad that had won only 33 games the season before. The Walker Hype Machine led to the following totally awesome commercial:

Unfortunately, that commercial represented one of the last times Employee Number 8 ever went to the basket. During his rookie season, 'Toine led the C's in points (17.5) and rebounds (9.0)...but Boston actually dropped from 33 wins to 15. That's right: Adding Walker made the Celtics 18 games worse.

Of course, in all fairness to Walker, the Celtics were tanking in hopes of winning the Tim Duncan lottery. Unfortunately, they had stiff competition from the Vancouver Grizzlies (who went 14-68), the San Antonio Spurs (David Robinson missed 51 games and their leading scorer for the season was a one-foot-in-the-grave Dominique Wilkins) and the Philadelphia 76ers (who managed only 22 wins with a trio of Allen Iverson, Jerry Stackhouse and Derrick Coleman).

We all know how this turned out. The Spurs got the first pick and and took Duncan with it. The Sixers got the second pick and wasted it on Keith Van Horn. The Celtics actually had the third and sixth picks (the latter of which was acquired in a trade with the Mavericks that involved, giggle, Eric Montross).

Tracy McGrady was available...but Boston didn't pick him. (Knee-Mac went ninth.) With the third pick, the Celtics wisely took Chauncey Billups. Sadly, they traded Billups the very next season (along with Dee Brown, Roy Rogers and John Thomas) to the Toronto Raptors for Kenny Anderson, Popeye Jones and Zan Tabak. Boston fans can thank Rick Pitino for that bullshit.

With the sixth pick, they unwisely selected Ron Mercer, who lasted a season and a half before getting shipped to Denver (with Popeye Jones and Dwayne Schintzius) for Danny Fortson, Eric Washington, Eric Williams and a 2001 1st round draft pick (Kedrick Brown). Thanks again, Pitino.

So I guess it wasn't all Walker's fault that the Celtics continued to suck. And he was a workhorse of sorts. During his second season, he played all 82 games, averaging 22.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.7 SPG. Unfortunately, he was still a rather inefficient scorer (42% from the field, 31% from downtown, 64% from the line). What's more, despite all the steals, his individual defense wasn't great. Those two things -- inefficient O, shaky D -- were recurring trends for Walker, who never once finished a season with a better Offensive Rating than Defensive Rating. In fact, his finished his career with an O-Rating of 97 and a D-Rating of 105.

That's right: 'Toine was worth -8 points per 100 possessions over his career.

Whatever discipline Walker had under coach Pitino disappeared when Jim O'Brien took over during the 2000-01 season. That campaign began a stretch of three straight seasons in which Antoine led the league in three-point field goal attempts: 603 (or 7.4 per game) in 2000-01, 645 (8.0 per) in 2001-02, and 582 (7.5 per) in 2002-03. Unbelievably, he still couldn't get his Offensive Rating over 100 (it was a dismal 92 during the 2002-03 season...which might explain why his Offensive Win Share score was -1.6).

Walker's inefficiency was (partially) masked by O'Brien's run-and-gun offense (O'Brien was doing the whole Seven Seconds or Less thing years before Mike D'Antoni "invented" it and "made" Steve Nash). So his averages (20-ish PPG, 8-ish RPG and 5-ish APG) earned him a spot on the 2002 and 2003 Eastern Conference All-Star Teams. In fact, I believe it was during one of those All-Star weekends when 'Toine was famously asked why he took so many threes, to which he infamously responded "Because there are no fours."


During the second round of the 2003 NBA playoffs, Boston got swept by the New Jersey Nets. Walker was terrible during that sweep, going 23-for-67 (34 percent) from the field and 3-for-15 (20 percent) from beyond the arc. Remember: Walker was known for being a shooter. I can't stress this enough.

The Celtics decided it was time to go in a new direction. On August 4, 2004, 'Toine (along with Tony Delk) was sent to Dallas for Raef LaFrentz, Chris Mills, Jiri Welsh and a 2004 first round draft pick. Mind you, LaFrentz -- who had averaged 9.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG the previous season -- still had six years and almost $70 million left on his contract. That's how badly the Celts -- GM Danny Ainge in particular -- wanted to get rid of Walker.

And Walker was pissed about it:

"I didn't have a relationship with [Danny Ainge, the team's new director of basketball operations and a former Celtic], period. They're going to say cap reasons and this and that. But anybody who knows basketball knows this was a personal situation. He didn't like me. It's either him or the owners. Somebody didn't like me.

"I figured I had too much power for them. I think I had too many friendships off the court. I think he felt he couldn't have a relationship with me. And I just think he never had a high regard for my game. He's entitled to that opinion. I'm 99 percent sure coach [Jim] O'Brien didn't want me to leave."
Maybe...maybe not. As far as I could tell, the C's were united in their desire to exile their All-Star forward:

In a news conference at the Celtics' training facility, Ainge denied that the move was personal, but then allowed that Walker's strong personality was a factor. Ainge said Walker's outspoken presence may have "stifled" the leadership of other Celtics.

"Antoine had a grasp on our franchise," Ainge told The Globe. "If Antoine is Michael Jordan, it's OK to have a grasp. If Antoine is Larry Bird, it's OK to have a grasp, or Bill Russell. I think those players had grasps on their franchises.

"But I didn't perceive Antoine's grasp on us as a positive thing."

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck also denied the deal was made because of a personality conflict.

"It was a unanimous recommendation from everybody involved in basketball," Grousbeck told The Globe. "The two people that [owner] Steve Pagliuca and I met with on Saturday, Jim O'Brien and Danny Ainge, both recommended the deal. The coaching staff, the scouts, player personnel, and Danny unanimously backed the deal. It was not personal."

It has been well-documented that Ainge, in his capacity as a television analyst, had been critical of Walker and his style of play.

"I think Antoine Walker is an excellent player and he's done an excellent job in this organization," Ainge told The Globe. "This is simply basketball. This has nothing to do with anything personal. I don't know Antoine except from basketball observation, from a fan, coaching, and general managing perspective. Maybe I didn't have as high a regard for his game as he had for his game, but I certainly respect Antoine Walker as a player."
Still, things could have been worse for Walker. He was joining a Mavericks team that had won 60 games the season before (which tied the Spurs for best in the league) and led the Association in Offensive Rating (110.7 points scored per 100 possessios). But in the 2003 Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks had lost to the Spurs in six games.

Now, it's worth noting that Dirk Nowitzki got hurt in Game 3 of that series and didn't play again. So who knows what might have happened with a healthy Nowitzki. Still, Mark Cuban was freaked out enough to pull an "all-in" stunt of his own, bringing in both Walker and Antawn Jamison.

The stunt failed. Oh how it failed.

Despite Walker's 27 percent three-point shooting, Dallas once again led the league in Offensive Rating (112.1) but their Defensive Rating fell from ninth in 2002-03 to 26th in 2003-04. The team had no depth and was forced to rely on bench players like Josh Howard (a rookie), Eduardo Najera (declared "legally useless" by productivity scientists) and Shawn Bradley (a.k.a. NBA bitch). Worse, the chemistry the Mavs had displayed the previous season was blown to hell. The result: Dallas dropped from 60 wins to 52, finished third in their own division (barely ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies) and got schooled by the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the playoffs.

That was the end of the Walker Era in Dallas...not to mention the Nash and Jamison Eras. The Mavs traded 'Toine Dallas (again with Tony Delk) to the Atlanta Hawks for Alan Henderson, Jason Terry and a future first round draft pick. Walker was actually leading Atlanta in points (20.4) and rebounds (9.4), and he was second in assists (3.7) and steails (1.2), but the Hawks still wanted nothing to do with him (these days that kind of production would have earned him a six-year, $119 million contract).

So at the trade deadline, Atlanta shipped Walker back to the Celtics for Tom Gugliotta, Gary Payton, Michael Stewart and a 2006 first round draft pick (which became Rajon Rondo after the Hawks traded it to the Suns who traded it back to the Celtics). Supposedly, Walker was brought in to bolster Boston's playoff run...only the Celtcs lost in the first round to the post-Brawl Indiana Pacers. Even worse, the C's lost Game 7 in Boston by the humiliating score of 97-70.

So Walker had failed as a) a savior, b) a roleplayer, and c) a returning hero. Which brings us full circle to his time with the Heat and why I can't stomach the fact that Antoine Walker has more NBA titles than Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash, John Stockton, and whoever else you want to name.

Look: Walker was an inefficient ballhog who preferred chucking up ridiculous shots to attacking the rim. In the rare event he did make it to the line, he tended to brick his free throws. I mean, honestly, how does a "shooter" hit only 63 percent of his foul shots for his career? The most frustrating thing was that Walker had a solid set of NBA skills. If he'd had a higher basketball IQ, and a more realistic grasp of his place among the NBA elite, he could have been a truly great player.

Instead, he piggybacked his way to a championship in Miami. During the 2006 playoffs, Walker took more treys than any other player (148 of 'em) despite shooting only 32 percent from three-point range. He averaged 13 PPG, but he was the only Heat rotation player to have an Offensive Rating below 100 (it was 97) and an negative Offensive Win Share score (-0.2). And his postseason PER of 10.6 was seventh on the team behind Dwyane Wade, Shaq, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, James Posey and Jason Williams.

During Miami's four wins in the Finals, Walker went 6-for-17, 5-for-11, 2-for-7, and 6-for-17. Oh, and he was 3-for-21 on threes. So, yeah. He wasn't exactly lighting it up. Again remember: HE WAS A SHOOTER.

The next season, Riley suspended Walker for being too fat. The season after that, Riley had the same complaint before saying "fuck it" and trading 'Toine (with Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a 2009 first round pick) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Mark Blount and Ricky Davis.

Think about that: Riley preferred having Mark Blount and Ricky Davis over Antoine Walker. If that doesn't say everything, nothing will.

Anyway, you know the rest of this sad story. Walker played about half a season in Minnesota (14.9 PPG, 36% shooting, 32% on threes) before the Timberwolves told him to just stay home. Unable to come to a buyout agreement, the T-Wolves shipped him to Memphis the next summer. After a few months of paying him to sit at home eating Twinkies, the Grizzlies decided to pay him $9 million to go away forever.

Which is more or less what he did. But his name was still in the news because of his ongoing legal problems (from Wikipedia):

On January 5, 2009, Walker was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving at Miami Beach. He had been driving with his headlights off and reportedly had a strong odor of alcohol. His case is still pending and thus has not been convicted.

On July 15, 2009, Walker was charged with three felony counts of writing bad checks related to gambling debts he had incurred at three Las Vegas casinos. Walker was arrested on July 15 at Harrah's Casino in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The charges stemmed from over $800,000 in gambling debts. Walker was in Tahoe to play in the American Century Celebrity Golf Classic the following day.

On June 30, 2010, Walker entered a plea of not guilty on felony bad check charges stemming from his failure to pay $770,000 in gambling losses to Caeser's Palace and two other casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Then there was his bankruptcy (again from Wikipedia):

On May 18, 2010, Walker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in the Southern District of Florida (Miami) as case number 10-23558 with total assets of $4.3 million and debts of $12.7 million. The filing listed four pieces of real estate including a $2.3 million Miami home that is underwater with a mortgage of $3.6 million, and three other properties in Chicago, one listed for $1.4 million. Nazr Mohammed paid half the fee of Walker's bankruptcy attorney.
Mind you, this is a guy who made almost $110 million in salary alone. And did I mention he was a slumlord too?!

His professional and financial lives were so totally screwed that he actually signed on to play with a Puerto Rican team called the Guaynabo Mets for $7,000 a month. Only the Mets cut him after eight games...during which he went 6-for-27 from downtown. Sorry. I had to.

Now Walker is trying to make an NBA comeback. Supposedly, "four to six" teams are interested in him. I can't imagine for what, unless these teams need some poor sap to sample room service on the road so their star player doesn't end up with food poisoning.

In the end, my problem with Walker is that he wasted so much: talent, potential, money, and so many opportunities. He failed to rejuvenate the Celtic legacy (some might say he even dejuvenated it). He failed to push the Mavericks over the hump. He failed...whatever the hell the Hawks were trying to do (those dysfunctional bastards). He squandered vast, almost unimaginable amounts of money. He couldn't stay out of the way of the law. And he put human beings in danger with criminally careless property mismanagement. The whole Walker story is one giant, goddamned shame.

But he has a ring.

Update! Bonus video: Basketbawful reader zyth sent in video of the Walker Shimmy. How could I omit his shimmy from this post? Inexcusable.

But wait, there's more. How 'bout an example of 'Toine's brilliant shot selection:

Triple team? SHOOT IT, ANTOINE!!

And 'cause chris demanded it:

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