Pitino: Pierce is not on the Block
January 26, 1999
WALTHAM - They have been training for less than a week, but we still know plenty about the Celtics. We know Rick Pitino has promised not to trade Paul Pierce. We know no player on the roster can be a credible spokesman for Jenny Craig. We know how to keep up with the Joneses, too, realizing the difference between the Jones who was paid to stay (Popeye) and the Jones who was paid to go away (Dontae).
One thing, though, no one knows. Pitino doesn't know it and neither does your neighbor: How will the Celtics look when the scores begin to count?
Anyone with access to a television has been able to see that the Celtics look as svelte now as they did on April 18, 1998, the last time they played a game. But that date is also part of the problem. The 18th of April was nine months ago. If you ask any team to take nine months off between games, what you're really asking for is confusion.
The Celtics believe that's a good thing. They will be in Toronto tonight, getting their first chance to see what they missed in center Michael Stewart. They also will be at SkyDome, playing their first exhibition game against the Raptors. The last time the Celtics took a court collectively, Pierce was still trying to choose between the University of Kansas and the pros, assistant coach Lester Conner was "Celtics coaching candidate" Lester Conner, and Tyus Edney was in his final hours as the Celtics' best point guard.
Of course, tonight's game may be sloppy. But at least it's a game.
"In practice, we do all right because we're playing against each other and know what plays we're trying to run," Ron Mercer said. "But now we get to play against different guys who will be doing things that we don't practice. It will be good. It will have the atmosphere, the fans, the whole thing."
There will be several subplots tonight. Not only will Kenny Anderson be testing his sore knees for the first time (in a semi-official game), he will be facing the team that once traded for him. Before Anderson arrived in Boston, the Trail Blazers sent him to Toronto for Damon Stoudamire. Anderson refused to report, forcing the deal to the Celtics. He, Popeye Jones, and Zan Tabak landed in Boston while Chauncey Billups, Dee Brown, John Thomas, and Roy Rogers became Raptors.
"I was never a Raptor," Anderson said yesterday during the team's annual Media Day. "I have nothing against that city, but I just didn't want to play for an expansion team."
If Anderson plays several minutes tonight and happens to drive toward the basket, there is a good chance he will be running into the 6-foot-10-inch Stewart. Last week, the former free agent center decided to sign a one-year contract with the Raptors rather than a multiyear deal with the Celtics. One of Stewart's teammates knows about multiyear deals with the Celtics. Brown was halfway through his six-year contract when the Celtics traded him nearly a year ago. Tonight will be his first game against the team that drafted him. And tonight will be the first NBA game, of any kind, for rookie forward Pierce.
Pitino said he doesn't expect the Celtics to be fluid offensively. He also knows they won't be healthy. Bruce Bowen and Greg Minor could miss the season opener because of respective wrist and ankle injuries (Minor may need surgery). Tony Battie and Dwayne Schintzius are expected to play, even though both experienced back spasms over the weekend. And Walter McCarty has a turf-toe type injury but is expected to play.
"We've got some guys banged up, but I'm going up there looking for a win," Antoine Walker said. "I don't believe in taking the court just for the sake of taking the court. I'm looking for us to do something."
Since the Celtics have added Battie and Jones, there may be moments when Walker plays small forward with either Battie or Jones playing power forward. That is one of the Celtics' luxuries this year. It was nearly impossible last season because Walker was their only proven, double-digit rebounder. Now he has Jones, who can say that he once led the entire league in offensive rebounding.
"I think we're going to be hyped for this game," said Dana Barros. "I think you're going to see a lot of energy and running. We're definitely going to be running."
But what about artistic merit? How will the Celtics play?
Barros thought about that question for a while. And then he smiled.