Incentive Cause

Updated: February 19, 2003, 1:01 PM ET
By By Peter Keating, ESPN The Magazine
Last July, when Boston shipped Kenny Anderson, Joe Forte and Vitaly Potapenko to Seattle for Vin Baker and Shammond Williams, Celtics fans were, to say the least, stumped. Whatever the cognoscenti thought of the swap talentwise, it seemed to make even less sense businesswise. The trade, after all, saddled the team with a third aximum contract (Baker's on top of Paul Pierce's and Antoine Walker's), thereby hog-tying GM Chris Wallace. Weird, huh?

Yes, until it all became clear last fall, when Paul Gaston said he was selling the Celtics to a group led by local investors Wycliffe Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca. Gaston, it turned out, definitely had a plan: to cash out near the top ($360M) and squeeze as much money as he could from the team before the papers were signed. Dumping Anderson et al.and allowing Rodney Rogers to walklet Gaston whack $1M off this season's payroll. He saved hundreds of thousands more by making the Celtics the only NBA club to open the season with the league-minimum 12 players; 25 other teams carried at least 14. Oh, and the Celtics scouting staff? A hardy crew of one.