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10.22.2013

Pitino Passes on McGrady

June 26, 1997

The Dream Teamer didn't arrive. So Rick Pitino instead went ahead and selected what he called his "dream backcourt" by using the third and sixth picks to take guards Chauncey Billups of Colorado and Ron Mercer of Kentucky.

The picks, neither of them real stunners, nevertheless came only after a proposed deal for Scottie Pippen fell through earlier in the day. Both sides are claiming they backed away from the deal, which would have brought Pippen and Luc Longley to Boston for the third and sixth picks this year and a No. 1 pick in 1999.

"Chicago got cold feet," said Jimmy Sexton, who represents Pippen and was kept abreast of the proceedings by the Bulls. "They backed off. Scottie had been kind of excited about the deal, but he understands how things go. It looks like he'll be in Chicago."

Celtics president/coach Rick Pitino presented a different slant.

"They approached us," he said. "We told them we'd consider it strongly. The three and the six were available and they asked if we would sweeten it. We did a little with the No. 1 but then they wanted the whole sugar cane factory. So we said, no, we'll go with the young guys."

Whether that additional sweetener was Eric Williams was not known. However Pitino said that the team had looked at several trade proposals for Williams and decided against moving him. However, with the team acutely in need of height, and having a plethora of small forwards, Williams might be expendable down the road.

Pitino said he felt Pippen had "five or six years" left and had no problem contemplating a Pippen/ Longley/Antoine Walker frontcourt. "Our job is to bring the fans the best product as quickly as we can," he said.

Two factors out of Boston's control may have contributed to killing the deal. First, there was speculation that Michael Jordan threatened to retire if the deal went through, although his agent, David Falk, last night said that was news to him.

"Michael has been at a golf tournament and has been unreachable," Falk said. "He has made it clear he hopes the Bulls make the decision to keep the team together. We hope he keeps the team together and goes for No. 6. That's Michael's position."

In addition, the player the Bulls wanted to pick with the No. 3 selection - Utah's Keith Van Horn - was not going to be available. The Bulls hoped to trade Van Horn to Denver for Antonio McDyess and then use the sixth pick to take Tracy McGrady. Van Horn, however, was locked into the No. 2 pick by virtue of a megadeal involving New Jersey and Philadelphia. The Sixers were to receive Jimmy Jackson, Eric Montross, and the seventh and 21st picks (Tim Thomas, Anthony Parker.) New Jersey would get Van Horn, Don MacLean, Lucious Harris and a player to be named, presumably Michael Cage if the Celtics-Sixers trade from last Friday is nullified.

Pitino said the Pippen deal fell through around 3 p.m. and the Celtics went back to their draft board. Then, when the mammoth, five-player/three-pick deal between New Jersey and Philadelphia surfaced, Pitino knew what he had because Van Horn was going to go No. 2.

He was so confident that he told season ticket-holders some 20 minutes before the draft started that he would take Billups. He praised the Colorado point guard and then went back into Draft Central to tumultuous applause.

Billups gives the Celtics size at the point guard position - he is 6 feet 3 inches - and also has excellent playmaker instincts. His selection signals the end of the David Wesley Era as the team's floor leader; Pitino all but said that Wesley would not be re-signed.

"This young man," Pitino said of Billups, "can really break you down. We're very excited about him."

Pitino returned to the FleetCenter podium 20 minutes later to announce the selection of Mercer. This was not a difficult selection, even though both Vancouver and Denver wanted nothing to do with him.

"We've got our dream backcourt now. We've got 6-3 and 6-6 in the backcourt and that's very exciting," Pitino said.

Billups endorsed the new backcourt.

"I think playing with Ron will be great," Billups said. "He brings so much to the table. I think we'll work great together."

Pitino said he felt awkward talking about Mercer prior to the draft.

"Ron Mercer was hard for me because, as his college coach, I could not promote him the way I would have liked. I had to be very quiet," Pitino said. "People say he can't beat you off the dribble, but just watch some tape from our games last year. He's extremely athletic, he runs the floor well, he's going to be a good defensive player in this league in time. And he's much more of a shooting guard than a small forward. He can get physical, he can post up smaller guards."

There weren't a whole lot of surprises in the top of the first round. Tim Duncan went first and Van Horn went next, although he will end up in New Jersey. Vancouver, desperate for point guard help, selected Bowling Green's Antonio Daniels while the Nuggets selected Tony Battie. Denver later added Danny Fortson in exchange for Ervin Johnson.

McGrady, the high school star from Mt. Zion Christian High School in Durham, N.C., ended up in Toronto at No. 9, Austin Croshere of Providence was the first Big East player chosen, going to Indiana at No. 12 as everyone suspected. The two biggest surprises in the first round were Jacque Vaughn sliding all the way to No. 27 and Houston taking USC's Rodrick Rhodes, whom no one figured would go in the first round.

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