Celtics Wanted Nowitzki

Celtics Wanted Nowitzki

June 25, 1998

Every NBA draft has millions of untold stories tucked in its corners. Here are 10 from the 1998 edition Wednesday:

- Certainly, the Celtics are happy with their selection of Paul Pierce in the No. 10 slot. As general manager Chris Wallace said, "When it came to our draft board, we didn't have Pierce in our state, let alone our neighborhood." But many in the organization are still wondering, "What if?" as in "What if Dirk Nowitzki had not been taken before Boston picked?"

It turns out that the Celtics have dreamed of the 6-foot-11-inch Nowitzki for the past month. Their talk that they wouldn't be able to sign him because of international concerns was a smoke screen to scare off other teams. Some teams bought it; Don Nelson didn't. Rick Pitino and his staff were so confident that they could get Nowitzki that early during the draft, Celtic representatives were on the phone speaking with the 20-year-old center. Nowitzki was telling them how excited he was with the idea of playing in Boston. And then former Celtic Nelson, coach and general manager of the Mavericks, swooped in and made a deal with the Bucks.

That left the Celtics thinking about two additional could-have-beens: They had a chance to swap picks with Milwaukee (the Bucks wanted the Celtics to take center Andrew Lang off their hands, too). If the Celtics had done that, Nelson couldn't have gotten their man from them. Also, think of early May. The Celtics and Bucks had a coin toss to see who would get additional Ping-Pong balls in the lottery. The Celtics lost. As a result, the Bucks picked ninth and the Celtics 10th.

- Antoine Walker was in Vancouver, British Columbia, site of the draft, giving advice to his friend Nazr Mohammed. Walker wanted the Celtics to draft the center from Kentucky, so much so that there was a call to the Celtic offices Wednesday afternoon. It was superagent David Falk, who represents Walker. His question: What about Nazr? The Celtics said they weren't going to take him (word is that they weren't thrilled when Utah's Michael Doleac checked out faster than Mohammed in a running drill). Falk relayed that Walker would find the news very disappointing. Eventually, Mohammed was taken by the Jazz and traded to the 76ers.

- Two Celtics watching the draft closely were Tyus Edney and Bruce Bowen. The Celtics have to exercise a contract option on both players by Tuesday. If the team picks up their contracts, they stay. If the team doesn't, they become free agents. Edney has bulked up this summer, surprising all who have seen him. But the Celtics will probably add his comparatively meager salary (about $ 500,000) to their free agent savings account and re-sign defensive ace Bowen.

- Pitino said Walker was not discussed in any deals. Two Western Conference teams, however, insist that the Celtics dangled their 6-9 captain in an effort to move up. Word out of Los Angeles is that there was a Walker-for-Michael Olowokandi proposal (the No. 10 pick was not involved), which the Clippers seemed interested in until . . . well, until Falk had a meeting with the Clippers Monday afternoon. The agent was speaking on behalf of Mike Bibby, but don't think for a second that Walker's name didn't come up. The Clippers wound up taking Olowokandi with the first pick.

- When Ron Mercer left Kentucky, he said he had his best workout with Denver and thought the Nuggets would draft him. Obviously, they didn't. But there was a chance Mercer could have gone to the Nuggets Wednesday. Or the Grizzlies. The Celtics had proposals with both teams that didn't go through. But a consolation prize could come in the next few days, if they are interested. The Cavaliers were apparently interested in trading with the Grizzlies. Their target at the No. 2 spot: Pierce. They were willing to trade Wesley Person, a career 40 percent shooter from 3-point range, and others. If the Celtics did want to move Pierce, they know one of their first calls could be to Cleveland's 216 area code.

- Hey, M.L. Carr. If your nemesis, Peter Vecsey, hasn't called in a while, it's not because he has lost your phone number. The NBC-TV and New York Post journalist called the Celtics' war room with the news that the Bucks were going to take Nowitzki for the Mavericks.

- Boston wasn't the only team affected by the Kings taking Jason Williams with the seventh pick. The Magic were also thrown by the pick. In their perfect world, they were planning to take Williams with one of their three first-rounders. Orlando also received calls from Boston. The Celtics fell in love with Keon Clark after the 6-11 center's workout at Brandeis a week ago. "You would have paid to see it," Wallace said. "If this guy didn't have the background questions, there's no way he would have been there at 10 or 12."

- Travis Knight was close to packing his bags and moving out of his Cambridge home. The Lakers and Jazz had some interest in the 7-footer.

- The Celtics like to keep up with the neighbors. So you know they are interested in the 76ers' activity. Not only did Philadelphia get better by drafting Larry Hughes and trading for Mohammed, the Sixers - according to sources - plan to waive Derrick Coleman next week (it will cost them $ 5 million). After that, word is that the 6-10 power forward will sign with the Bulls.

- It doesn't matter who you are. Lawyer, doctor, student, diplomat, scholar, artist, musician. You have a better chance of slipping on a Celtics uniform in 1998-99 than Dontae Jones. The forward continues to accumulate fines at a startling rate. While with the Knicks, his fine tab had reached a record            $80,000 for the season. The talented guard has already blown off several workout sessions this summer.

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