November 7, 1997
Rick Pitino's reputation may be one of impatience, impulse, and quick fixes, but yesterday theCeltics coach said he is quite prepared to take a haymaker this season and, in fact, built the team with that very likely expectation. If you're looking for immediate gratification, well, you've come to the wrong place.
Pitino thought everyone understood, although he said during the summer that "the future of the Boston Celtics is now." He thought it was obvious that the rebuilding plan would take years, although he mentioned on many occasions that it was the team's hope to be competitive as quickly as possible and has suggested the playoffs as an outside option on a few occasions.
And of course, a week ago tonight, he was reveling in an upset of the Bulls. Six days and three bludgeonings later, he isn't in the mood to celebrate. He's in the mood to contemplate.
After the latest loss, a not-as-close-as-it-looked 90-74 defeat to the Heat Wednesday, Pitino compared the Celtics to a college team. He said, "It's not going to happen this year." It was like conceding the election based on the returns from Dixville Notch.
Now this might all change with a few wins. Or if the players ever master the system before the millennium. But yesterday, on the first Thursday of November, seven days into the 1997-98 season, with almost 5 percent of the season completed, Pitino said, "There is no sense of urgency with us."
He knows that. He said he thinks the media know that. The fans, however, are a different story.
"I think there might have been a sense of immediacy among the fans," he said.
If that's the case, they are in for a lot more of what they saw against Miami than what they saw against Chicago. This is the youngest team in the NBA. The players are trying to absorb a system that is alien to most of them. There have been boos around the FleetCenter from those fans who expected more.
"If I didn't expect to lose right now," Pitino said, "I would not have assembled the team the way I did, on youth and potential. You all see that Ron Mercer is going to be a heck of a player. You all see that Antoine Walker is going to be a heck of a player, if he isn't already. If we can keep these people together for four or five years, we will have a contending team."
That may be the only way to rebuild in a 29-team league, but it is also a stark admission from a man whose reputation has been built on turning losers into winners in a very short time. He has the time, the clout, and the money to get it done here. Right now he simply doesn't have the talent.
"It was like this at Providence in the first year. It was like this with the Knicks and at Kentucky. The difference is that I had more talent," he said.
The Celtics players look lost at times. They look depressed at times. They are asked to be upbeat and positive in public, which is hard after getting smoked. (Just ask B.J. Armstrong, who already has snapped in Golden State.) They not only are learning a new system, most are playing with new teammates. And after tomorrow night's game in Milwaukee, they will have played six games in eight days.
"That's too many," Pitino said. "The NBA should look into that. It doesn't make sense for the fans and it doesn't make sense for the players."
He went on, "We're young. We have so much to learn."
And that will take time and patience. But we already knew that.
Pitino said Tyus Edney, who suffered a very convenient ankle injury a week ago, has made a remarkable recovery and will in all likelihood be activated for the Bucks game. That means someone has to be waived or placed on the injured list to make room for him. "We have a lot of guys who are banged up," Pitino said. John Thomas better watch that foul line. Roy Rogers will remain on the list, as will Greg Minor, unless Pitino can find a new home for him . . . Tonight's opponents, the Cavaliers, actually are trying to score points this season and already feel they have a draft keeper in former Kentuckian Derek Anderson. Pitino knows him all too well. "He is one of my favorite players of all time," Pitino said. "He epitomizes what you want in the backcourt in terms of energy." . . . The Celtics are taking closed practices to the extreme, replacing clear window panes on the gymnasium doors with leaded glass, lest anyone attempt to get a peek.