June 4, 1997
Desperate young men eager to become members of the World's Greatest
Basketball League assume that the movers and shakers of the NBA must be
monitoring their every move as they knock each other around on the court
here at Solheim Gymnasium on the campus of Moody Bible Institute, but
it just isn't so.
What the kids at the Chicago pre-draft camp don't realize is that a coach always has time to talk.
Take Rick Pitino,
for example. He's currently holding draft picks No. 3, 6, and 55. "And I
don't even know if we'll keep 55," he confides. It is not necessary for
him to be worrying about whether gargantuan Garth Joseph (officially
checking in at 7 feet 2 inches and 313 pounds) can handle Michael
Andersen, a.k.a. The Greatest Player Ever To Come Out Of Denmark, in the
low post. He's got Chris Wallace and Leo Papile to check up on that
"For me," says Pitino,
"this is valuable because while I'm here, I can talk to someone from
every team in the league about possible trades, about possible exchange
of draft picks, and about anything."
the possible exception of Pat Riley, who never comes, everyone who's
anyone, and who is not involved in the NBA Finals, is here. It is a
phenomenal candy store of coaches, general managers, and scouts, with
one Hall of Fame legend chatting up another, even as a third Hall of
Fame legend is standing by with his hand extended.
Thus far, nothing.
has talked and talked, and the only thing resolved is that the Boston
Celtics will not be picking No. 1. San Antonio has Tim Duncan on deck,
and the Spurs are going to keep him. Duncan is a perfect insurance
policy in case David Robinson's back is really as bad as I've been
hearing. And if it isn't, well, how does a Robinson-Duncan-Sean Elliott
front line sound? (It sounds like 55-60 W's to me.)
So forget the Spurs, Rick says. They aren't budging.
The first round of the 1997 NBA draft has three tiers: 1. Tim Duncan. 2. Nos. 2-7. 3. Everybody else.
For the record, Nos. 2-7 consist of Tony Battie, Ron Mercer, Keith Van
Horn, Chauncey Billups, Antonio Daniels, and Adonal Foyle. Assuming the
Celtics keep both picks, their selections will be two of those young
"I'm really pumped up, really excited," Pitino
says. "I am excited about the draft. Yes, it's disappointing that we
didn't get the first pick, because Duncan is the real deal. And yes,
it's a weak draft overall. But it's strong through 7, and then the
question marks start."
Here are Pitino capsules on Nos. 2-7, in alphabetical order:
2. Tony Battie, 6-11, Texas Tech. "A power forward and backup center
who will play center for a Philadelphia or a Boston. Everyone wishes he
would stay in school, but here he is. He's going to need weight training
for about two years, and will eventually be a very good player."
3. Chauncey Billups, 6-3, Colorado. "Chauncey Billups took a Colorado
team that had very little else into the NCAA tournament out of one of
the two toughest leagues in the country. People say he's not a natural
point guard, but to me, he has all point guard skills. When he catches
the ball, he's in the triple-threat position" - shoot, pass, or drive.
"He can get a team into an offense and he has a good sense of the
4. Antonio Daniels, 6-4, Bowling
Green. "I know Chauncey better because I tried to recruit him, but I
like Antonio. He's a little bit bigger, and I like his court vision. He
did not have a great workout with us because he had a flareup of patella
5. Adonal Foyle, 6-9,
Colgate. "I love Adonal Foyle because he's such a great kid, and I think
he'll be very good in this league, but he is not a center. He blocked
shots at Colgate, but he is not an NBA shot-blocker. He will be a good
low-post scorer. He's got good hands. My question with all these kids is
whether they are willing to work hard in the offseason, and I think
6. Ron Mercer, 6-7,
Kentucky. "I've heard it suggested we can't take Ron Mercer because of
some friction with Antoine Walker. Let me say, unequivocally, that is
not true. I know Antoine very well - he's like a son to me - and he is
capable of saying anything. He might have said we don't need Ron Mercer,
because we need a big man. But there is no problem with Ron Mercer,
because he doesn't have an ego. He needs more of an ego. He will be a
fine 2-guard in the NBA. People say, 'So why don't you take him?' We
might, but it's not that simple."
Van Horn, 6-10, Utah. "I've been in Boston long enough to know what
people are thinking. So let me say right now he is not Michael Smith,
and I don't mean any disrespect to Michael Smith. He's a legit 6-10, he
runs very well, he jumps very well, and he shoots it very well. He's not
a great passer. He weighs 232, and he'stronger than people think."
Note the absence of two names. No Tracy McGrady ("Not at 3 or 6, but if
we drop down . . . ") and no Tim Thomas, although that, theoretically,
could be subject to change. "I recruited him, and he may be the most
skilled player in the draft," says Pitino.
"He's got a body, he's got a touch, and he could become a great player.
We haven't worked Thomas out yet, and what I need to determine is, does
he really like the game of basketball? Is he really committed? It
wouldn't surprise me if he hadn't touched a ball from the end of the
season until people started working him out.'
reiterates that the plan over the next two years is to start
maneuvering the salary cap in order to be in the free agent hunt next
summer. "Antoine Walker, if he works, has a chance to be an All-Star,"
"Eric Williams can get a lot better. One of our picks this year could
develop into an All-Star-level player. Then if you get a quality free
agent next year, you've got something."
immediate priority is to bestow that million-dollar exception on
someone. As for Rick Fox, "I told him he's the captain of the Celtics,
and that means something," Pitino
points out. "He opted out of his contract, so he's also a businessman,
which is fine. He's going to shop around, and we'll see what happens. I
would love to have Rick Fox."
expects trade and draft spot-swapping talk to heat up as the weeks go
by. "There is a great deal of romance attached to the draft," he says.
"People always want to do something in the end. This could be a year
when, five minutes after someone is taken, you'll hear, 'There is a
trade between . . . ' "
He says he wants
the rest of the league to realize that his players aren't "sale items at
Filene's Basement. Everyone wants to make a trade that benefits them,
not us," he laughs.
Oh, he's back, all
right, and don't think everyone doesn't know it. "We were flying down to
Orlando in their private plane," says new Magic assistant Brendan Suhr,
"and out of nowhere, Chuck Daly says, 'How are we going to get the ball
in against Pitino?' "
For the past two years, it has been as if this were British soccer and
the Celtics had been "relegated" to the Second Division. That's over
now. Rick Pitino's here, and the Celtics are going to matter once again.