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Did trade bring Celtics hope or heartbreak?
by Rob Bradford / March 4, 2002

They are the new kids in class.

The awkward small talk, subtle glances and behind-the-back inquiries that accompany newcomers isn't only deserved for grade school. Just ask Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers.

It had been a few days since the duo had been dubbed the poster boys for the Phoenix Suns' roster purge, ending up with the Boston Celtics in a five-player, one draft choice trade. Still, the sight of the pair lofting up casual post-practice jumpers on one end of the court while the rest of the team joked and laughed their way around the HealthPoint Practice Facility made it clear that the 'Just happy to be here's' and 'Nice to meet you's' weren't ending any time soon.

No matter how tall, talented, rich or experienced, fitting in is never easy. But unfortunately for Delk, Rogers and the rest of the Celtics, the opportunity to exchange cordials are shrinking by the day.

"They have got to get comfortable," said Boston's co-captain Antoine Walker, whose team is just three games ahead of Indiana for the final playoff spot with 24 games to play. "We're a team that has a lot of chemistry. They've just got to find their niche, but unfortunately we don't have a lot of time for those guys to fit in. We need them to come in and be impact players right away."

The race for familiarity didn't get off on the right foot. Since supplying NBA fans with one of the few trading deadline deals, the Celtics lost their first three games with Delk and Rogers on board. Making matters worse was
how uncomfortable both the newcomers and their new teammates looked while trying to rediscover the 12 guys-one cab mentality which has made Boston one of the league's most surprising teams.

This wasn't the first impression Boston had bargained for after receiving a combined 23.2 points per game for three players (Joe Johnson, Randy Brown, Milt Palacio) who had totally escaped coach Jim O'Brien's rotation.

But you'll have to cut the Celtics a little slack. Trading for a post-season run is just another in a long list of unfamiliar scenarios that Boston hasn't experienced since the storied organization last made the playoffs seven seasons ago.

"I remember very vividly the game the two of them had against us in early December," said Celtics general manager Chris Wallace. "There have been very few games the Celtics have had where two guys come off the bench and score 37 points. We've been after both of these guys for quite a while." It's fair to say, however, that the previous circumstances when Boston tried to secure the services of Delk and Rogers were markedly different
than this time around.

Delk, who has now played for five teams in six seasons, was constantly being pursued by the Celtics for seemingly no other reason than he played for the University of Kentucky. And although former Wildcats and Celtics coach Rick Pitino is gone, the 28-year-old can still see the remnants of his blue grass roots in the form of former UK assistant O'Brien, Walker and his college roommate for four years, Walter McCarty.

"(The familiarity) makes a big difference for me," said Boston's newest starting shooting guard, Delk, whose career has been highlighted by a 53-point performance last season. "I've gone to places where I didn't know
anybody. The thing I like about this team is that everybody enjoys each other. The opportunity is there and I'm going to make the best of it."

As much talk as there was of Delk coming to Boston, Rogers' scenario actually made it beyond negotiations. In 1999, the eight-year veteran power forward had been part of a trade agreement between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Celtics, which would have sent him to the team in green in exchange for Tony Battie.

But since Battie had just been obtained from the Los Angeles Lakers, not enough time had passed in order to turn around and deal the Celts' current starting center again.

Since the failed trade, Rogers has gone on to play a key role as the first player off the bench for the once-mighty Suns. It was a job that earned him the title of the NBA's top sixth-man two seasons ago.

With credentials like those Delk and Rogers bring, it's hard to fathom how the Celtics could possibly go wrong in making the deal. It's an optimism that even the early returns haven't dampened.

"Tony and Rodney give us an option we haven't had in the past, where we can go deep into the bench," said Walker. "Hopefully those guys can also supply the third and fourth scoring punch we need game in and game out."

The trade has brought hope, but the key question remains: How much longer until the wins arrive, as well?

Rob Bradford covers the Celtics for the Lowell Sun and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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