The Lockout is Over: Kenny Anderson Won't have to Sell Anymore Cars to Get By

The Lockout is Over: Kenny Anderson Won't have to Sell Anymore Cars to Get By

January 9, 1999

   When Celtics coach Rick Pitino used the New York Yankees as a point of reference at the start of yesterday's FleetCenter press conference, you knew he had a lot of explaining to do.

The coach's first official comments of the shortened NBA season harkened back to Whitey Ford and Johnny Blanchard and Hector Lopez.

Then the spin cycle began.

Pinstripes turned to green. Fans became top priority. The lockout became a "strike" in Pitinospeak. A nucleus of young, athletic players was a good thing. Antoine Walker was really "very loyal." Kenny Anderson's recent comments about having to sell one of his eight cars to make ends meet were taken out of context. Two weeks of two-a-day workouts would be enough to get the team in shape. The NBA was headed for a more competitive season. Teams were destined for a more equal balance of power.

Round and round the question-and-answer session went. And in the end, Pitino tried to convince a crowd of reporters the lockout was a blessing in disguise.

"I can remember back growing up [ knowing] every position, every statistic of the New York Yankees," said Pitino, recalling teams' players from the '50s and '60s. "But the reason I could name all those people is they stuck together as a team, sort of like the legendary Celtics teams. What was turning everybody off to professional sports was that teams could not stick together.

"Now I was very worried in the last five or six months that we could not compete. Here it is the greatest tradition in all of professional basketball. We could not compete on the same level playing field with everyone else because it was becoming a money game. Well, now with this strike behind us, all of us in the NBA to a relative degree can now compete on the same level playing field and the Boston Celtics can once again build that great tradition back up."

The new agreement changed the rules of the money game. It features salary limits and a three-year rookie scale, with teams holding an option for the fourth year and right of first refusal for the fifth. Now the Celtics can continue to build with draft picks and youth. But a lower salary cap than expected - $30 million - will hamper efforts to land a decent big man.

"We're certainly going to look at all the options that we have in this condensed period of time and then proceed accordingly," said general manager Chris Wallace.

In the short term, Boston owns an advantage over other teams, having 12 players, including rookie Paul Pierce in a few weeks, under contract. Popeye Jones is the team's lone free agent. Greater certainty about the roster means Boston can focus on practice plans and a renewed commitment to the region's fans.

The Celtics' practice facilities open to players Monday, and Pitino hopes all his players will work out. Training camp is expected to start around Jan. 18. The coach talked to his players Thursday and does not expect a Shawn Kemp-type situation. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward gained a significant amount of weight during the lockout and appears far from playing shape.

"Basically, a couple of the [ players] said, 'We're in good shape. We're not in Coach P shape,' " said Pitino. "I wouldn't expect them to be."

Coach P shape will come after a rigorous training camp. Right now only Ron Mercer has told Pitino he's in playing shape and "ready to go" after working out in New Orleans.

"I could run right now on a treadmill for an hour," said Pitino. "I could not go out there and play a 10-minute basketball game because basketball conditioning is the most difficult conditioning of any sport, I believe. Our guys have got to get out there and play.

"I know Antoine plays every day. He's a basketball junkie. So he'll be in basketball shape. He might not be in good condition. If they're diligent this week, [ strength and conditioning coach] Shaun Brown feels he can get them 80 percent of the way there. Then they've got to be ready for our two-a-day practices."

Pitino and his coaching staff can expedite the team's return to playing shape. But neither the coaches nor the players can produce a timetable for the fans' return.

It's likely that the revised schedule will force the organization to wait well into March to gauge the effect of the lockout on its fan base. The FleetCenter's open dates are few and far between in February. But that didn't stop Pitino from highlighting the Celtics' past commitment to fans. He talked about the availability of $10 tickets and a free scrimmage in the future.

At every opportunity possible during the press conference, the coach emphasized the importance of the fans. He mentioned that commissioner David Stern said, "Let's put the fans on a pedestal," adding that the organization had a time-honored tradition of putting fans first. He claimed the shortened season would excite fans with its college-like competitiveness. He expressed sympathy for vendors, restaurants, hotels, and fans that "suffered the most." He trumpeted the more level playing field.

"I think it's good news for everyone in the league," said Pitino. "When you cover a sport and you can put down at the end of the year the six teams that are going to be there, I don't think it's fun for the fans, fun for TV, fun to cover when you know who's going to be there based on payroll.

"So I think it's fun for all of us, all of us who cover it, all of us who are involved in it that true competition is back somewhat. Certain people will have the edge somewhat, but as the years go by, it will start to equal out. And for us and what we have to build and the direction that we set forth a few years ago even before we got here, yes, it is a blessing."

Despite the cancellation of 43 Celtics games, Pitino returned in midseason form. He kept the spin going and never tired.

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