Good soldier Carr no longer at front

May 9, 1997

There were several chairs on the parquet floor, all there for the dignitaries, family, and members of the New Celtic Order. Next to the chairs was a table, and on top of that a speaker that Who guitarist Pete Townsend would be proud to call his own.

It was from behind that speaker that M.L. Carr chose to witness yesterday's lovefest at the FleetCenter. Was his mind flashing back to three years ago, when he took over basketball operations for the Celtics and the announcement was made in a cramped conference room with, maybe, 20 people? Or to two years ago, when he named himself head coach and a small room at Brandeis served as the locale?

How long had it been? A month ago, he was still, on paper, the most powerful basketball man in the organization. Now he is not even involved. Now he wasn't even important enough to warrant a chair. He stood, arms folded, shielded from view from most of the people who were there to see the man who came to replace him.

Of all the people who were dismissed, dissed, or otherwise disrupted on Bloody Monday/Tuesday, Carr remains the only one with the Celtics. That is not wholly surprising. As Rick Pitino noted yesterday, "He took a bullet for the organization." In reality, Carr took a lot of bullets. He ended up more like Rasputin, but he says that was part of the plan and he was more than happy to be a human bull's-eye.

He has a new title, something called executive vice president for corporate development. (As we heard umpteen times yesterday, however, titles mean nothing. Even if Pitino had to be the head coach and president.) Carr will even have a new office on a new floor, so, in effect, he really has been kicked upstairs. His new job will have nothing to do with the basketball team, unless shaking down rich people to support the Celtics counts. He says he is content. He also says he has been rewarded for his efforts.

"The basketball side is over for me. I recognize that," he said after the Pitino coronation. "What I believe the organization needs now is more money to get some free agents for Rick. I became the bridge to get us to the point where we're at now. You don't need the bridge anymore. And I'll tell you this: The bridge is safe. Very safe. Paul Gaston stepped up. The agreement we have is, believe me, wonderful, fellas. I'm very, very happy with it."

We all suspected that it would turn out something like this. Carr had been a lame-duck coach ever since it was revealed that Larry Bird was out hunting for a new one. No one gave any credibility to his remaining as chief of basketball operations; the new guy would want that authority as well.

(Isn't it interesting that no one, absolutely no one, is wondering if Pitino, who hasn't been in the NBA in eight years, is up to doing both jobs?)

The new guy went out of his way to praise Carr yesterday. They had a brief meeting and Pitino noted, "Some people, it takes five years to figure out. I found out in five minutes that he's a giant of a man." Gaston also threw a bonbon at his former hoop el jefe, for being Gaston's (not to mention Ernest Hemingway's) definition of courage: grace under fire.

Pitino then even suggested that Carr might make a good representative for the Celtics at the May 18 draft lottery. It was a little bit like Ronald Reagan allowing the defeated Jimmy Carter to be the one to greet the just-released American hostages in Germany. Carr, ever the company man, said he would be available.

"He's about to become very lucky," Pitino said.

To listen to Carr, he already is. He performed what he views as a valuable public service by taking the Celtics to the bottom. He weathered the criticism, deflected heat from the players, kept everything positive and upbeat, and now has his just reward. He will not have to worry about making the next mortgage payment.

"You can't deny it now," he was saying. "We are championship-driven now. We have the person who will get us to the next level. I started the race. Rick is going to finish it. This is an incredible coup for this organization, and Paul Gaston deserves all the credit."

He paused, smiled, and added, "I'm not brown-nosing the boss. I don't need to do that at this stage of my life."

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