May 23, 2007
SECAUCUS, N.J. - Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck did not flip through the listings of winning combinations when the first set of four Ping-Pong balls were announced last night. Unlike other team representatives sequestered in conference room 3A at the NBA Entertainment Studios -where the actual lottery drawing took place - Grousbeck knew almost immediately Boston would not receive the No. 1 pick. It would go to the Portland Trail Blazers.
As the second set of Ping-Pong balls were plucked from a tumbler, Grousbeck rocked ever so slightly in his chair, slowly realizing the Celtics would not land the No. 2 pick, either, as numbers 14, 4, 11, and 10 were pulled. That choice would go to the Seattle SuperSonics. Although Grousbeck didn't say anything, it was easy to read his mind - and that of everyone else not affiliated with Portland or Seattle.
Goodbye Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
Moments later, when the Atlanta Hawks took the third pick, Grousbeck forced a smile, disappointed that Boston will pick fifth in the 2007 NBA Draft June 28. Then, he turned around to shake hands and congratulate the three men sitting behind him: Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard, Seattle (assistant GM) Rich Cho, and Atlanta owner Ed Peskowitz.
"I knew the numbers," said Grousbeck. "I had a general idea a 1 or 2 had to show up or we weren't getting a pick and they didn't show up. The first thing I thought of is that Danny [Ainge] has been hammering into me that there's five or six guys he likes. I was probably looking for something to cheer me up, but that's what we've been talking about for a month and we're going to go with that plan. It would have been fun [to win]. It was like the feeling of watching a Paul Pierce last-second 3-pointer go toward the net except it took a month and a half to not fall, instead of a second a half.
"In five or six years, it will probably be seen as a draft that is probably pretty deep, but right now all the flow is with 1 and 2. You can't fight that, but we will make pick No. 5 work."
For the first and what he promised would be the last time, Grousbeck watched the lottery proceedings from behind locked doors. Representatives from 12 of the 14 lottery teams (the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Clippers did not show) entered room 3A shortly after 7 p.m. Once NBA chief operating officer and general counsel Joel Litvin explained the rules governing the process, everyone in attendance placed cellphones and BlackBerries and all other portable wireless devices in envelopes kept under the watchful eye of two NBA security officials in the back of the room.
Just before 7:30 p.m., more than hour before the results were announced on the live lottery broadcast on ESPN, 14 Ping-Pong balls are released into a tumbler at the front of the room. Cho turns to Pritchard and says, "What do you say we go 1, 2?" Pritchard replies, "Or 2, 1 would be fine." An official timer stands in one corner of the room with his back to the tumbler. When the timer raises his arm, a ball is drawn at 10-second intervals. 5, 9, 14, 13. Cho turns to Pritchard and says, "That's you."
"We're thrilled," said Pritchard, it what was easily the understatement of the evening. "We feel like the tide has definitely changed for us. We've changed our culture. Maybe it's a little poetic justice [after having the worst record last year and falling to fourth]. We feel like we're moving forward and this is a big piece of it. No decisions has been made [on Oden or Durant]. We just want to make sure we get to know a couple kids at the top ... I'll concede that it's a two- horse race right now."
When NBA officials repeat the drawing process for the No. 2 pick, it is Cho's turn to be thrilled. Pritchard and Cho take turns showing each other the lucky charms they brought to Secaucus. For Pitchard, it is a ladybug keychain given to him by his 10-year-old daughter Kendall. For, Cho it is a picture of his 20-month-old daughter Miranda. After Atlanta takes the No. 3 spot, one NBA official walks over to Pritchard to offer congratulations and apologizes for not coming over sooner.
Upon hearing that, Grousbeck quips, "You don't need to apologize to him. He's fine."
Laughter breaks the tension that has built from the moment room 3A went into lockdown mode, though it still takes time before the lottery winners and loser can truly register what happened. The TV in the front of the room is turned on and a strange time warp takes place.
With the lottery drawing officially complete, team representatives watch as ESPN teases the announcement of the 2007 draft order. More laughter is heard when Tommy Heinsohn and Jerry West, representing the Celtics and Grizzlies, respectively, are shown entering the NBA Entertainment Studios as everyone inside room 3A knows the disappointment that awaits the Hall of Famers. The room quiets down after Dan Patrick tells his TV audience, "Those Ping-Pong balls rarely have been more valuable." The next hour passes quickly for some and slowly for others, the winners and losers of the top picks conducting interviews with the four media members allowed into the room.
Surprisingly, when the draft lottery takes place, there is more laughter in room 3A than at any other time during the night. It is surreal watching the suspense build as deputy commissioner Adam Silver works his way toward the top pick. The stoic faces of Heinsohn and West elicit more laughter. The post-lottery assessments by TV analyst Greg Anthony are a little tougher for Grousbeck to handle, as Anthony talks about Boston as the big loser in the whole process. Still, Grousbeck smiles gamely through the rest of the evening, taking comfort in a deep draft.
"I've been looking forward to next season for a long time," said Grousbeck. "I'm ready to turn the page. This, in a sense, lets us turn the page. Now, we know what we've got. We know where we'll be going. We'll be adding a good player. In a sense, I feel like next season has finally begun because this was actually hanging over from last season.
"Uncertainty is part of the game and there was a high level of uncertainty in this room, which was actually quite an experience. Now, it's resolved, we're onto the draft and I'm looking forward to the workouts."
Once Portland has been announced as the top pick on the broadcast, NBA security allows everyone in room 3A to collect their cellphones and BlackBerries. All the envelopes are opened, except for one. In all the excitement, Pritchard left his BlackBerry behind. He rushes back into room 3A, grabs the device and says, "My guess is this is full already." Winding his way downstairs for more interviews, he counts 19 voice messages and 28 text messages. For Portland, it is the first taste of all the excitement to come. For Boston, it is time, once again, to move forward from a disappointing lottery.