Give Geoff Petrie an Assist

June 25, 1998

Give Geoff Petrie an Assist

Send your thank you notes to Geoff Petrie in Sacramento. If you're as excited about Paul Pierce as Rick Pitino is, then you've got Petrie, the Kings' basketball boss, to thank. He made it all happen.

He did it by surprising one and all and taking point guard Jason Williams from Florida with the seventh pick last night in the NBA draft. That not only cleared the way for Pierce to fall to No. 10 - we'll only mention Michael Young, Sam Vincent, and Acie Earl once - but it typified a wacky first round.

Petrie took a novel approach to the draft: He made the selection based on need. He needed backcourt help in the worst way, having lost Mitch Richmond via trade and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf via defection (Turkey), and had no one reliable to run the show. Williams was on everyone's list as the second-best point guard, after Mike Bibby. He might have been seen as a legit top seven pick had he not been a total boothead at Florida. (He should have fun with Chris Webber.)

The Kings' choice meant Pierce, still unaccountably available, was destined for Boston. The 76ers are committed to Tim Thomas at small forward and needed a shooting guard. Hello, Larry Hughes. And Milwaukee already had a prearranged deal with Dallas to draft the player Boston really wanted - German Dirk Nowitzki - which meant Pierce would be available.

"Sacramento was the key for us," Celtics general manager Chris Wallace said.

Thus concluded a wacky top 10. It would get even wackier as the night went on. Nazr Mohammed, a player the Celtics said they were considering at No. 10, went 29th to the Jazz, who didn't want to pick anyone and moved him

to Philadelphia for a future first-round choice. The Celtics, according to Wallace, "chased a lot of big guys through the teens and 20s," offering a first-round pick. No one accommodated them.

It was, of course, destined to be a wacky night because the Clippers were in control and there was no stand-alone No. 1. For the first time since Pervis Ellison went first overall in 1989, there was last-minute confusion, discussion, and debate over which way Los Angeles would turn: big or little.

The Clippers couldn't lose either way - we think. They went big, with raw but promising Michael Olowokandi, a 7-foot-1-inch athlete who may or may not be one of the better centers in the league by the millennium. In so doing, they dissed David Falk, who had determined that his guy, Bibby, was going to the Clippers and had had an 11th-hour repast with Los Angeles owner Donald Sterling to make a final pitch.

Bibby ended up going second, also a mild surprise. It was at this spot that many had slotted Pierce, if only because Vancouver had drafted a point guard last year. Would Stu Jackson, the Grizzlies' general manager, pick another point guard knowing that he was admitting to one and all that he botched Antonio Daniels? (We all knew that, anyway.)

Dallas, with Trader Don Nelson at the helm, was all over the map, starting with Nowitzki and ending with the acquisition of Steve Nash. With the sixth pick, the Mavericks took Robert Traylor, which was an eye-opener. They needed backcourt help. But the Traylor pick was for Milwaukee; the Bucks had agreed to send picks 9 and 19 to Dallas for No. 6.

That enabled them to snatch Nowitzki right out of Pitino's hands. The Celtics had zeroed in on the German, despite public expressions of doubt regarding his availability and foreign players in general. (Hey, Pitino admitted they were lying.) It would have been interesting to see which way Boston would have gone had both Pierce and Nowitzki been available; the guess here is that the Celtics would have taken the German.

The Celtics think he has a chance to be a great one. Boston already had practically leased a Lufthansa widebody to send an entourage to Germany to begin the courtship, selling the NBA (it would be restricted as to what it could offer him) and the Celtics and the tradition and Red Auerbach and the parquet floor and the Big Dig. Pitino said he was confident Nowitzki would have played for Boston this season - the coach is an optimist, but he seemed sure about this and had worked him out in Rome - while most reports had Nowitzki committed to a team in Italy for two years.

Nellie also got Pat Garrity with his second pick, then wrangled Nash from Phoenix for the Mavs' unprotected No. 1 next season. Dallas threw in Garrity and a couple players to balance the contract, but the Mavericks, with Nash and, perhaps, Nowitzki available next season, suddenly look passable.

Nellie also had the Warriors convinced that he was interested in Antawn Jamison and was ready to pounce on the North Carolina star at No. 4. That led Golden State to work a deal with Toronto, flip-flopping picks. Golden State got its man - Jamison - while Toronto got its man - Vince Carter - along with what Sidney Greenstreet would call "carrying charges."

Several projected first-rounders slid even further than Pierce, including Mohammed. Rashard Lewis, the Houston high schooler who many felt would go to the Rockets at 14, 16, or 17, instead went in the second round. High schooler Al Harrington went 25th to Indiana. The Bulls took Corey Benjamin, who had been mentioned as a top 20 pick in some mock drafts.

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