Antoine Walker Eager to Work Toward Second Chance in NBA D-League
Walker, a three-time NBA All-Star and 12-year NBA veteran, will join a Stampede team that has lost its first seven games of the season but features former NBA draft picks Luke Jackson and Salim Stoudamire and is helmed by Randy Livingston, an 11-year NBA veteran himself. Assistant coach Greg Minor also has a connection with Walker, as the two were teammates for three seasons as members of the Boston Celtics.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to get to play basketball at a competitive level and also excited and thankful that the Idaho Stampede and Randy are giving me this opportunity to play. I love the game," Walker said during a press conference Tuesday in which the Stampede announced the acquisition.
"I've been out of the game for the last year and a half and it's been very difficult. To get an opportunity to play is great. Having an opportunity to get back into the NBA is one thing, but this is also giving me an opportunity to do what I love every day again and playing basketball so I'm just thankful for the opportunity. I'll try and help get the team turned around and get back to where it needs to be -- a competitive playoff team."
Walker, 34, last played in the NBA during the 2007-08 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, 12 years after being selected by the Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. The veteran forward signed with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2008-09 season but never entered a game during the regular season, leaving a sour taste in his mouth.
After nearly two years out of basketball, however, Walker decided to rededicate himself.
"I had some personal problems going on and a lot of negativity, so I took a little time to gather myself and figure out what I want to do in life," Walker said, perhaps in reference to the various financial problems plaguing him the last couple of years. "Obviously I want to continue to play basketball. I think I'm still very young, being 34, and I think I can still play for a couple more years.
"I just want to continue to live out my dream. My dream was to one day play in the NBA and be successful and I think I left the game at the wrong time. I want to leave the game on my own merits. When you leave the game for a year and a half, doors close fast on you, so I want to reopen those doors and hopefully this is the way to do it."
Walker averaged 17.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists over a successful career that included winning an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006, but he feels he can still add to his legacy.
"I just feel like I left the game too early. My last year in the league, I took a buyout so I didn't really get the opportunity to play and finish the way I wanted to so I still believe I have a lot of basketball left in me. I could've had opportunities to go overseas, but I turned them down," Walker added.
"I think this is the best place to play. I love the competition. There are a lot of guys that come to the D-League from the NBA, especially the young guys, and I think that if I have any aspiration to play, I've got to be competitive. I think this is the perfect stepping stone to show teams I still can be competitive."
Livingston, a first-year head coach but longtime minor-league veteran, believes Walker will bring a lot to his struggling team.
"(Walker is someone who brings) leadership, he's a guy that has played in an NBA championship and has an NBA championship ring, a guy that's multi-talented," Livingston said. "He can handle the ball, stretch the floor and shoot 3s and just bring a calming presence that we've been missing early-on this season. I still think he has a lot to give to the game for his own personal reasons so I think it's going to be a win-win situation for our organization and the team going forward."
Walker hasn't played professional basketball since a quick stint in Puerto Rico with the Mets de Guaynabo in March but has been working out in hopes of getting another NBA shot.
"I've worked out very hard. Starting in May, I went back with Coach (Rick) Pitino at Louisville so I've been at it pretty hard getting myself in shape. Obviously I haven't been able to play a lot of five-on-five because the guys that I was playing against are obviously playing right now, but I've still been able to work out," Walker said. "I'll probably be a little rusty in the beginning because I haven't played competitive basketball in a year and a half. It's going to be a little rough in the beginning, but hopefully it all comes back to me real fast."
Livingston is also counting on Walker to be ready to play, expecting him to contribute Wednesday night.
"Yes!" Livingston said when asked if Walker would be in the lineup Wednesday. "He'll play. We'll monitor everything and just see how he is condition-wise."
Although Walker won't have much time to get acclimated to his new team, Livingston believes he'll help during his time on the court.
"I think the one thing that we talked about, and I know as a player myself later on in my career, you might lose a little bit of a step but you gain a lot of knowledge, a lot of wisdom in the game and you're able to bring more of a cerebral approach that the other guys just don't have," Livingston said. "I think he'll be very valuable (Wednesday) and he'll be a big part of the game plan. He'll be a big part of what happens. I understand he won't learn everything tonight, but I know there's not one NBA set or play that I give to him that he hasn't seen already."
Walker said he's ready to play, but hasn't set any goals for himself regarding his time in the D-League.
"I'm here to play. I came with five or six bags, so I'm here to play," Walker said. "I don't put any sort of expectations on me. I think if I can come out and play and help the team win, I think people will see what I'm worth. I know it's going to be hard and I know it's not going to happen overnight so I don't want to put that type of pressure on myself. I want to come play basketball and let my play speak for itself."
Livingston believes that Walker will be able to get an NBA call-up simply because he's willing to show that he wants to play basketball instead of sitting at home and waiting for an NBA team to go and find him, something that happens to a lot of veteran free agents that have enjoyed the type of NBA success that Walker has in the past.
"Once he's acclimated in our system and in the D-League, the NBA people will see that hunger. There aren't too many people who played 13 years in the NBA that are willing to say 'OK, I'm going to go play in the D-League,'" Livingston said. "I think that's one thing that the NBA teams will take in, that he's coming out and saying 'I love the game, I want to play, I'm not playing for money, I'm playing strictly for the love of the game.' Once people see that, I think things will work out for him."
Walker also believes that just playing basketball, without worrying about statistics, will be best for his career.
"I'm just going to try and play basketball and do whatever the coaching staff needs me to do to win because that's the only way I know how to play," Walker said. "I don't want to come out and say I have to score 35 or 40 points to get myself back to the NBA. I'd rather come in with a team concept, play to win and have fun playing. I just want to come be Antoine -- play basketball, play hard and play to win and then just let everything else take care of itself."