June 26, 1997
Both of them sat in a place called the Green Room last night, hoping Rick Pitino
would not pass them by. Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer knew they
wanted to play in Boston. They also knew it wasn't up to them. So they
sat in Charlotte Coliseum and waited.
didn't have to squirm for long. Forty minutes after last night's NBA
draft began, Billups and Mercer were officially Celtics. Pitino
had considered trading the No. 3 and No. 6 draft picks to Chicago for
Scottie Pippen, but the Celtics' president and coach settled instead for
a new backcourt. With the third pick, Billups, a 6-foot-3-inch point
guard from Colorado, was selected. Three spots later, 6-7 shooting guard
Mercer was reunited with his head coach at the University of Kentucky.
knows the Celtics still have plenty of work to do in reshaping their
roster. The team that went 15-67 last year now has lottery picks in the
backcourt and at small forward (Antoine Walker). But its only center
under contract, Pervis Ellison, played six games last season. Dino Radja
is the only proven power forward, and the team still hopes the NBA
approves his trade to Philadelphia.
Billups and Mercer aren't concerned about the questions. They are ready
to begin what they think will be an uprising of youth in Boston.
where I wanted to be," Billups gushed last night. "I think everybody in
the draft right now was a Celtic fan growing up because of how much
they won. Those guys and the Lakers. I mean, it was like the Bulls right
now. I saw a lot of them and they had a lot of great players; teams
that kids would always admire."
Last night, Pitino
stated the obvious: Billups and Mercer will have to be ready to
contribute. Especially Billups. Since he was 11, he has been nicknamed
"Smooth." He has the moniker seared into his flesh. He'll have to live
up to the name because he will be the only true point guard on the
"If we re-sign David Wesley, then we will have three point guards making more than $ 10 million combined," Pitino said. "That does not bode well."
As for shooting guard, Pitino acknowledged that one of last year's starters, Todd Day, will be renounced, on or soon after July 1.
"At the right time, yes, we will renounce Todd Day," Pitino
said. "It's not that we don't like his game. But we've got too much
duplication at the position and we have to go after big men."
So that leaves openings for the New Guys, both of whom will be 21 when training camp begins. Pitino
said he doesn't believe in throwing rookies into a starting backcourt.
"They've got to earn it," he said. "But we've got two players with great
size who are going to play a lot of minutes. Now as far as who is going
to play center, I don't know right now." He added that he will pursue
two or three free agent big men.
who averaged 18 points per game in two seasons at Colorado, says he is
ready to start. He also says you can check his resume for experience
with team makeovers.
"My first year at
Colorado, we were 9-18," he said. "That really helped me out in Year 2
because it made me appreciate winning a lot more because, in high
school, I was a lot more used to it."
Mercer's first year of college was different. As a Pitino-coached
freshman, he and Walker contributed to UK's national championship. Last
season, with Walker moving on the Celtics, the Wildcats were national
runners-up. Mercer thought of that last night. The Denver Nuggets had
just selected Tony Battie fifth. That meant Boston had five minutes to
make a choice. As an electronic clock approached zero, Mercer sat at a
table with his family. His head was bowed. No secret: he wanted Boston.
"I've been with Coach for two years," he said. "I really didn't think he would pass on me."
in the day, Mercer sat uncomfortably in a downtown hotel as he listened
to rumors of the Pippen trade. He said he was scared. He would be
satisfied to be a part of any NBA team, but if the question is where did
he want to be, the answer is Causeway Street. Furthermore, he said, he
is excited about playing with Walker, his former teammate at Kentucky.
There was talk that Mercer and Walker had a rift, but Mercer disputed
"When I first went to Kentucky, Derek Anderson drafted by the Cavaliers and Antoine were the people I followed," Mercer said.
said he has been lifting weights and working on his one-on-one skills
the last two months. He also mentioned that many cynics will be
surprised at his skill level. He was the Southeastern Conference Player
of the Year last season, averaging 18 points and shooting 49 percent
from the field. But there was talk that he couldn't effectively put the
ball on the floor and go to the hoop.
"People are going to see what I can do," he said. "I can't wait to get started."
He made that comment without knowing of Pitino's
words a few days ago. The coach said he wanted to have a rookie-free
agent camp at Brandeis University this weekend. Mercer smiled when he
heard that. "I guess I'll be there then," he said.
not, he and Billups will certainly be in the area in October for
training camp. By that time, Wesley may be with the Hornets. As for last
season's shooting guards, some may be in Boston (Dana Barros) and some
could be in other cities (Greg Minor, Dee Brown). Speaking of Brown last
night, Pitino joked, "Right now, it would be great to go out to dinner with him in the North End, but not to play basketball."
message from management is clear: this is a new start. And the response
of the players is just as poignant: They want to be in Boston.