9.08.2013

C's Lose Out in Duncan Sweepstakes

5/19/97

Don't lose heart because the Celtics lost the draft lottery yesterday. To earn an NBA championship a team must win games, not game shows.

The San Antonio Spurs won the Chuck Barris trophy. They have the No.1 pick. The Celtics will pick third and sixth. That's not a bad consolation prize for a team that needs, oh, seven or eight new players.

But it's not Tim Duncan, the Wake Forest center Celtic fans have pined for since Christmas. Celtics followers are amazing. Their cocksure sense of entitlement never fails them, even when their team does. Because the Celts were one of the five or six really lousy outfits in the NBA this past season, fans were sure Duncan was a Celtic by divine right.

It'll get worse, fans. The Spurs were 20-62 this year because David Robinson was hurt. With Robinson returning and Duncan arriving, the Spurs will get well fast.

That wouldn't have happened here, unless you think Dino Radja would have the same impact as the Admiral.

And that's why although he's doubtless disappointed, on the record anyway, not to get Duncan, I suspect Celtics Maximum Leader for Life Rick Pitino is less than heartsick over his lottery loss. For Pitino, there are gold and platinum linings in the latest cloud over the Celtics franchise.

Simply put, Duncan would have brought far too much fan optimism along with his considerable talent. Pitino will have his hands full next year controlling the revolution of rising expectactions his own move to the Celtics has created. If Duncan had become a Celt, Boston might expect, no, demand an immediate return to the playoffs, and more.

That would be pressure neither Pitino nor Duncan would deserve or need. The NBA may be more watered down than strip-joint Scotch, but expecting that sort of Celtics turnaround would be ludicrous. It took 43 wins to make the playoffs this season. That means Duncan would have to improve the Celtics by 28 wins.

Exactly two NBA rookies have ever had that much immediate impact, Larry Bird and Robinson.

Duncan could be rookie of the year, and still somehow be seen as a disappointment if the Celtics only went from 15-67 to 30-52.

And disappointment wouldn't be focused solely on Duncan. The highest-paid coach in sports history would also be held responsible in the event the Celts only improved from unbelievably horrid to respectably poor rather than becoming legitimately good.

Pitino doesn't need that noise. Beginning a reconstruction project on the scale of the Pyramids, what he needs is time. Time to see which of his current players (if any) can fit into his unique and demanding system of play. Time to see if he can create the Celtics any maneuvering room to pursue free agents. Time to reacclimate himself to the pro game.

Duncan would have eaten a huge chunk of Pitino's allotted construction time. The demand for results would have been instantaneous.

As it stands now, the Celtics will get two excellent young players out of the draft. Believe me, Keith Van Horn would only help, and I name him because he's one collegian I saw more than once on TV. That should please Pitino.

And expectations for next year have been lowered nicely. Because of the months-long Duncan obsession in these parts, fans are likely to react as if Boston is worse off than it was yesterday, which isn't true at all. This should please Pitino even more.

When the Celtics improve next season, as they will, fans will accept improvement for what it is, a step forward on what's bound to be a journey hundreds of games long. Nobody will be shouting "playoffs or bust." Being 15 or 20 games better will be seen as an achievement rather than a disappointment.

And cynical honesty requires we acknowledge one more gold lining in the lottery cloud for Pitino. He will remain the franchise's designated savior. No matter how well the two Celtics rookies play. When the team gets better, Pitino will still get all the credit.

If through some horrible mischance the team doesn't get better, fans will blame the lottery.

2 comments:

FLCeltsFan said...

Pitino is blaming the lottery for his failure in Boston. I blame Pitino's ego. We lost the lottery on 07 also and got the worst possible pick for having the 2nd most pingpong balls. The next year the Celtics won the title.

Lex said...

I'll take danny ainge any day over pitino

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