How Did P-Squared fall to 10?

How Did P-Squared fall to 10?

June 25, 1998

A day later, the same questions remained. How on earth did Paul Pierce, seen by many as the best all-around athlete in the NBA draft, slide all the way into Rick Pitino's grateful hands at No. 10?

The prevailing theory yesterday - there had to be some explanation, after all - was that Pierce had suffered because of lackluster workouts with the five teams for whom he auditioned. Based on conversations with executives of three of those teams, as well as Pierce's (admittedly biased) agent, that theory appears to be as valid as the one about the flat earth.

Paul Pierce slid to No. 10 for two main reasons: The top teams drafted according to need and small forward was not a top priority for most, and he let it be known to three teams drafting ahead of the Celtics - two of whomhe never worked out for - that he would not want to play for them.

The Pierce story actually is one of two parts: what happened in the first five picks and what happened in the next five. Suffice it to say that when Pierce was not selected in the first five picks, he already was ticketed to Boston. It was only a matter of time.

"I'll say this," said Sacramento personnel boss Jerry Reynolds. "Every team Paul Pierce passed on his way to Boston is sick about it. Boston is very, very lucky. He is going to be a big-time player." Pierce's agent, Aaron Goodwin, still was shocked to be making plans for Pierce to visit in Los Angeles with Pitino, who flew West yesterday. Goodwin figured Pierce would be meeting instead with Brian Hill, Stu Jackson, and the rest of the Vancouver brain trust in British Columbia. Asked about reports that Pierce performed poorly or was out of shape, Goodwin said, "He is in excellent shape and each team was impressed with what they saw.

That was a never a question. If you don't believe me, ask them."

OK, we did. We discovered the same thing. That sets the stage for the first part of the story.

The first five picks:

Pierce worked out for the Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Raptors, and Warriors. He had no chance of landing with the Clippers, who picked first, or the Raptors, who picked fourth. Goodwin also knew there was no chance Pierce would go second if the Clippers took Mike Bibby. But the Clippers instead took center Michael Olowokandi. It was now the Grizzlies' turn.

"Up until 20 minutes before the Grizzlies made their pick," Goodwin said yesterday from his hotel in Vancouver, "I was certain that Paul was going to Vancouver. Why it changed we don't know. But I knew something was up when I saw Bibby get called for a meeting with Stu 15 minutes before the whole thing started." The Grizzlies knew by then that Olowokandi was going No. 1. Pierce was a fit at big guard, or so Goodwin thought. "We were trying to get him there," said Goodwin, who also represents Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

One theory being floated is that agent David Falk, who represents Bibby, was already fuming that the Clippers had passed on his client and, shall we say, made a strong case for Bibby. Another had the Grizzlies deciding between Bibby and Vince Carter, who is more of a shooting guard than Pierce.

A third is probably closer to the truth: Bibby is a point guard, one of the two most critical positions on a team. And last year's point guard flopperoo in Vancouver, Antonio Daniels, was traded to San Antonio.

"It came down to Paul or Mike, and we thought Mike was better," said Noah Croom, the Grizzlies' assistant general manager. "It had nothing to do with Paul's workout. He was fine. He was enthusiastic about the city, which sometimes can be a problem for us. We can't understand why he fell that far, either."

Goodwin said that once the Grizzlies took Bibby, Pierce's next hope was Golden State. Once Olowokandi went, Denver was going big with Raef LaFrentz. Goodwin and Pierce knew that. The Nuggets still liked Pierce's workout; he just wasn't their player. The Raptors were next. They also were one of the teams on Pierce's you-know-what list, so they were out of the picture.The Warriors, however, were a different story. They could use a small forward. They didn't choose Pierce. They took Antawn Jamison.

"We liked Jamison better," said assistant general manager Gary Fitzsimmons. "Paul had a good workout with us. I think in retrospect, what may have hurt him is that he did all his workouts early, most before June 1. And sometimes people forget what they see early. But he wasn't out of shape and he worked out well."

The next five picks:

By this point, Pierce and Goodwin were still wondering what was going on. A trade between Dallas and Milwaukee already had taken care of the sixth pick, with the Mavericks drafting Robert Traylor for Milwaukee. That left the Kings at No. 7. Sacramento was another team Pierce expressed a desire not to play for. There is some bad blood between the Kings and Goodwin; he represents Mitch Richmond. The Kings drafted Florida point guard Jason Williams, a shocker.

"We considered him," Reynolds said of Pierce, "but not for very long. I think by that time, us and some other teams had already decided on our guy figuring Pierce wasn't going to be around. Everyone knows Paul Pierce is going to be very good. But we feel the guy we took is going to very good, too. And he's a point guard. We felt we needed help there more than at shooting guard."

Philadelphia was the last obstacle to Boston. Larry Brown coached at Kansas and has a North Carolina tie-in with Jayhawks coach Roy Williams. He very easily could have pulled the trigger on Pierce. He did not. He instead took Larry Hughes, a ballhandling, scoring guard who can relieve Allen Iverson of some of the burden of running the team. Brown already had Tim Thomas at small forward.Brown actually took a poll among coaches and scouts between Pierce and Hughes, and it was divided. President Pat Croce then asked GM Billy King whom King wanted. He said Hughes. Brown said the same thing.

"I thought Pierce was going No. 2," Brown told reporters. "Everybody knows how much I love Pierce. But we have Tim Thomas to play that position. I had to make the choice that was best for us. We needed a bigger guard who could handle the ball. This is a true backcourt." Now Pierce was a lock for Boston. Just to make certain, Goodwin notified the Bucks that Pierce had no desire to play there. Milwaukee had Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen at the two positions Pierce might play. But the Bucks were picking for Dallas, anyway, so it made no difference.

"We knew Boston would be a good place for him and that Rick was very receptive to getting him," Goodwin said. "It's a bit of a bittersweet situation, but the bottom line is that he's with a team that wants him, that he feels comfortable playing for, and that provides a good fit."

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