Pippen Deal Falls Through; C's Take Billups Instead

June 26, 1997

One look into the eyes of two eager young men was validation enough. If you're a Celtics fan, you should be happy The Deal fell through.

Scottie Pippen is a great, great player, but he's better off in Chicago and the Celtics - make that the New Celtics, the Rick Pitino Celtics - are better off in the long run with Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer.

Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer are blank canvases. They are wonderful young talents who will now be placed in the custody of as great a pure teacher as has ever coached in the NBA. Rick Pitino will be their introduction to the NBA, and that is a very good thing. Best of all, these young men both truly wanted to be Celtics. That fact alone is an immeasurable benefit to the organization and the fans.

Consider the alternative. Scottie Pippen would have come to Boston as a 10-year veteran, which is both good and bad. It would have been good because he could have imparted the obvious this-is-the-way-it-is wisdom that comes with age, and it would have had the extra clout of a man who now has a ring for every finger, plus the thumb.

But a 32-year-old player who is embittered by the way he has been treated by the Bulls and who would have been a free agent at the end of the 1997-98 season would have been a risk. And who's to say he would have pledged comparable allegiance to Rick Pitino as he has to Phil Jackson? The latter has a completely different modus operandi than Rick Pitino. Scottie may have gotten too used to Phil's oft-existential ways to make an easy switch to Pitino's more confrontational approach.

And what's the rush, anyway? Just how good would a Pippen-led Celtics team have been next year? Would they have won 30? Perhaps. 35? Conceivable. 40? Doubtful. Very, very doubtful. Would they be in the playoffs next year? Uh-uh. So who cares? We can wait a while. The Celtics are still a draft or two away. We all know that.

I've heard it proposed that having Pippen would enhance the opportunity to attract a quality free agent in the famed class of '98. Maybe so, but I don't think it makes any difference now. Rick is here, and that's what matters. Assuming he can find a way to free up some money to begin with, he will be able to get a big-name free agent based on what he's done already. Once players in the NBA are reacquainted with the dynamism of a Pitino organization, they will know that Boston is once again going to be a happening place in the NBA. They will notice the staggering improvement in Antoine Walker, who next year will put up meaningful numbers. They will see what Pitino will do with Dana Barros, Dee Brown, Chauncey Billups, and Ron Mercer and they will want to climb aboard.

By importing fresh faces such as Billups and Mercer, Rick Pitino can mold the entire team his way. With Scottie Pippen, there might have been an element of, you know, "I'm not used to doing it this way. Or that way." Now we can be sure there will be one way - the Pitino way.

I realize that anybody can talk the talk, but I like the stuff I heard coming out of the mouths of Billups and Mercer last night. They are pumped about playing for Rick, and they are pumped about playing with each other.

"I am very excited about playing with Ron," beamed Billups. "He is very talented. We're going to have a great time together."

"Chauncey is a great point guard," gushed Mercer. "He can score. He can pass. I can't wait to get into the gym with him."

Mercer was exceptionally low key in his public pronouncements the day before the draft, but he now reveals that he very much wanted to play for Boston and thus be reunited with his old college coach. He was so fixated on being in Boston, in fact, that he admits he was very disturbed when he got wind of a proposed Boston-Chicago deal that would have sent the third and the sixth draft picks to the Bulls.

Mercer really only had eyes for one team - Boston. "I wanted to wind up with Coach," he declared.

What's not to like here? Start off with the premise that you couldn't be in better hands than Rick Pitino in terms of assessing this crop of collegians. He knows them all. He don't need no stinkin' scouts. If Rick Pitino has decided that Chauncey Billups is the best point guard available, that's all I need to know. If Rick Pitino has decided that Ron Mercer will be a better fit than either Tim Thomas or Tracy McGrady, that, too, is all I need to know.

Wouldn't you want to start off the new Pitino era with a complete Pitino touch? Wouldn't you like to be reassured that there are going to be kids wearing Boston uniforms who think the whole experience of getting to play for a coach they worship in a style they relish is the way to go? Once this foundation is established, then Rick can go out and bring in the right veterans to augment the Young Turks. Trading away two great young prospects in order to bring in an agenda-laden Scottie Pippen would have been a major risk.

Just listen to Mercer. "Everything in Boston is going to be new," he pointed out. "New players. New coach. Everything is going to change. Coach Pitino is going to change it all. And I'm very excited to be a part of it."

Oooh. That sends the little hairs up on the back of my neck. I love it when a Young Turk talks dirty like that, don't you?

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