Is Walker's return really the key to C's?

Updated: April 12, 2005, 11:05 AM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN Insider
Call it the return of the prodigal son.

Less than two years ago, Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge gleefully exiled Antoine Walker from Boston, trading him to the Dallas Mavericks for a package that included Raef LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch. At the time, Ainge lambasted Walker for his horrid shot selection and unwillingness to play a supporting role to more efficient offensive players.

Time heals all wounds, however, and Ainge reacquired Walker this February at the trade deadline. It was a sweetheart deal that cost the Celtics only a lottery-protected first-round pick and the last two months of Tom Gugliotta's career.

More surprising than the trade was the fans' reaction. Bostonians who had volunteered to help Walker pack for Dallas now welcomed him back with open arms – exemplified by our resident Celtics fan Bill Simmons' reaction to the trade.

The results thus far have backed up their excitement. The Celtics are 14-7 since Walker returned to the fold, including road victories over the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets, and the C's have seized control of the Atlantic Division race.

While the improvement is noteworthy, the Celtics' performance since the trade raises more questions than it answers. For instance, is Walker playing any better than he used to? How much of the improvement is directly attributable to him? Most important, can the Celtics' hot streak continue in the postseason?

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