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Let's Make a Deal: For Clippers and Celtics, It Wasn't That Easy

October 01, 1985|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

In the National Basketball Assn., trading can be as simple as making a few phone calls and shuffling some legal papers or as difficult as spending weeks of haggling over players and complicated terms to stay under the league's salary cap.

In a case by itself, though, was the trade of Bill Walton for Cedric Maxwell, which seemingly set a new standard for degree of difficulty.

It took the Clippers and Boston Celtics three months of dickering, bickering and legal maneuvering to finally get Walton to Boston, and Maxwell and a 1986 first-round draft choice to Los Angeles. The deal was completed Sept. 6.

At times, it seemed that the trade would never happen. The questionable condition of Maxwell's injured left knee slowed the proceedings. And restructuring both contracts to accommodate salary restrictions slowed them even more.

And not incidentally, there also was the possibility that Walton would sign as a free agent with the Lakers. He very well might have, but he failed their physical examination July 1.

Walton's failing the Laker physical may be a story in itself, but here it serves only as an interesting subplot in a tale of legal and contractual red tape and Monty Hall-like wheeling and dealing.

That shouldn't be too surprising, knowing the parties involved in the trade. The principals:

--The Celtics' President Red Auerbach and General Manager Jan Volk. Auerbach, a shrewd curmudgeon who has burned many teams in trades over the years, played a supervisory role, while Volk did much of the actual negotiating with the Clippers.

--The Clippers' owner Donald T. Sterling, General Manager Carl Scheer, and general counsel Arn Tellem. The Clippers, Sterling in particular, are known for dragging their feet. This time, though, Scheer took a major role in negotiating, and Tellem in restructuring the contracts.

--Bill Walton, a free-spirit whose last Clipper contract was as thick as the phone book for the San Fernando Valley and who refused to sign last season until he was assured of 56 tickets to Bruce Springsteen concerts.

--Cedric Maxwell and agent Ron Grinker, both of whom incessantly pushed for a trade after the Celtics had questioned Maxwell's dedication to knee rehabilitation. He had undergone arthroscopic surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee in February.

Now that the trade is history and Walton and Maxwell have switched teams and coasts, those involved say that spending their summer vacation as they did was worth it, that they are happy they didn't give in when it seemed as if the obstacles were too great.

There were, of course, some trade-offs.

Walton gave up a significant chunk of his Clipper contract and signed for only $450,000 with the Celtics so that he could have a chance to play on a potential championship team again before ending his career. Maxwell gave up the Celtic mystique for the Clippers' streak of seven straight non-playoff seasons, but at least he feels wanted.

And, as Volk said of the compromises both teams made: "I think we're taking a serious gamble with Bill, but I think the Clippers also gave up a great player--when he's healthy."

Here is a look at the development of the trade:

June 10-17: The morning after the Celtics' loss to the Lakers in the sixth and final game of the playoffs, Auerbach, Volk, Coach K.C. Jones, assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers and Larry Bird went back into the Boston Garden to rehash what had happened and to plan for the 1985-86 season.

As the men were walking out to lunch, Auerbach's secretary stopped them. Auerbach had a message to call Bill Walton.

"We all looked at each other and said, 'How about him?' " Volk said. "It was like a light bulb turning on."

By the time Auerbach returned his call, however, Walton had left for a European vacation. But Volk was on the phone to Scheer in Los Angeles the next day.

The Celtics agreed that Maxwell had to go, but his market value was not high because of his injured knee and his $800,000 annual contract for the next three seasons. If the Celtics were to make any significant roster moves, they would have to dump Maxwell's hefty salary.

From the start, the Clippers were divided on Maxwell.

Coach Don Chaney, who had played with Maxwell in Boston and who introduced Maxwell to his future wife, thought the 6-8 forward would solve the Clippers' power forward problems. And since the Clippers were going to select 7-foot Benoit Benjamin in the draft, they figured to still be strong at center.

But Scheer, who had watched Maxwell limp through the championship series, balked.

June 18: While Clipper management was busy drafting players from a suite at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, Maxwell arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and headed for Inglewood, where he had a physical examination scheduled with Dr. Tony Daly, the Clippers' physician.

At the urging of Chaney and Grinker, Maxwell's agent, who also represents three other Clippers, Scheer wanted to see just how weak Maxwell's knee was. Volk readily gave Scheer permission to examine Maxwell.

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