MIAMI (AP) – Antoine Walker understands his new role, and he’s ready to embrace it with the Miami Heat.

Throughout most of his first nine seasons, a tenure spent largely with the Boston Celtics, Walker was a marquee guy, someone who teams built offenses around. That won’t be the case in Miami, not with Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade starring as one of the NBA’s elite 1-2 punches.

Yet this was where Walker wanted to be – not because he wants to relax, but because he wants a title.

“In past years, I’ve always come in and had to worry about scoring 20, 25 a night for my team to win,” Walker said Thursday at his unveiling in Miami. “Now I don’t have to worry about that. I can come in and just play ball, just be versatile. Rebound, pass, score – whatever it calls for that night.”

Walker, the centerpiece of the largest trade in NBA history – a five-team, 13-player behemoth of a deal executed Tuesday night – figures to come into the season battling incumbent Udonis Haslem for the starting spot at power forward.

His multifaceted game was most attractive, said Heat president Pat Riley.

Miami got the three-time All-Star in a sign-and-trade with Boston; Walker is due to make $53 million over the next six seasons. Miami also got point guard Jason Williams, small forward James Posey and forward Andre Emmett in the megatrade, with swingman Eddie Jones, and forwards Rasual Butler and Qyntel Woods leaving the Heat.

Walker, who turns 29 next week, averaged 19.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season; he and Kevin Garnett were the only NBA players to have numbers that high in all three categories.

Plus, Walker was one of six players to average 19 and 9 – Garnett, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand and O’Neal were the others.

“He’s got a multitude of skills,” Riley said. “Not just as a ballhandler, but as a passer and a guy that can rebound.”

… He’s a very, very versatile player so I think he fits into exactly what we’re trying to do here from a talent standpoint.”

And what that means, apparently, is to get younger, more athletic and deeper – all at once.

Miami will have a different look in 2005-06, even though it won 59 games last season and took Detroit to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. And even after the trade, more additions are certain – considering that the team has only four perimeter players on the current roster.

“Our job is to put it all together now,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Walker is a career 41.5-percent shooter from the field, and just a 32.6-percent shooter from 3-point range – where he can be found quite regularly. Plus, he averages more than three turnovers per game.

Yet Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who coached Walker at Kentucky – winning the 1996 NCAA title – and later with the Celtics, said the trade will be “a tremendous boost” for Walker’s career.

“This is a home run for Antoine and a grand slam for the Miami Heat. … Antoine and Shaq will be great together,” Pitino said at Saratoga Race Course, where his thoroughbreds race in the summer. “He’s never had the luxury of playing with quality centers. He had to play the low post. This is the first time he’s been with a premier player.”

Including playoffs, Walker’s played in 724 games. He’s started all but 15 of them, and all of those reserve appearances came in the 1990s. But he said he’s not worried about whether he starts, and even lauded Haslem, saying he was “a very big part of what they did last year.”

Walker visited with Riley last week, a meeting that piqued his interest in Miami. He spoke with O’Neal days before the trade became official, and said the 12-time All-Star center was pleased to hear that Walker would soon be headed to South Florida.

Walker called coming to Miami “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“My career’s just starting,” Walker said. “I feel like now I’ve got the opportunity to fight for championships, to win championships. … This is an opportunity I don’t want to let go by.”

AP-ES-08-04-05 1614EDT


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