Does Rick Pitino Ever Tell the Truth?

November 14, 1997
Rick Pitino says he doesn't lie. He just reserves the right to change his mind.

Rick Pitino says he doesn't lie. But he might, you know, exaggerate a little bit.


Actually, I do. In nearly three decades as a professional sportswriter, I have learned above all else that teams are not in business to provide us with either stories or basic information. They will say the most expedient thing 99 percent of the time. They may or may not actually believe it, which really doesn't matter to them in the long run. Most of the time, they're worried only about today and the next game. Period. Your credibility and your reputation are not factors. 

That brings me to a second central reality of our business: There is no point in taking things personally when truth becomes a variable.

"He lied to me," someone in my business will wail on occasion, usually in reference to a general manager, sometimes in reference to a coach. Tough. Get over it, I say.

One of our jobs is to make an attempt to figure out the truth. It's very important not to take everything these people say at face value. I'm often amazed at some of the things I see in print. People I would like to think should know better will allow coaches and GMs to say some very absurd things without a clarifying disclaimer.

If we held Rick Pitino to everything he has ever said, he'd still be at Providence, for God's sake. In fact, not too long ago, I listened to the anti-Pitino rant of someone who is still angry about that supposed breach of faith.

Grow up, I say. Get over it. Things change. Guys get fired. Jobs open. People make you offers you can't refuse. That's the way the sports world works. Just because Rick Pitino has frequently said one thing and then done another does not make him a bad guy. It's all part of the game.

Rick Pitino sat and told me last March he thought he would be the Kentucky coach for "a long time." He also said he wouldn't want to go to a situation in which he would win "20 to 25 games." Later on, he said he didn't want to emulate his friend John Calipari, who had sworn everlasting allegiance to the University of Massachusetts not long before accepting the job with New Jersey.

Well, guess what. Pitino is now the coach of the Boston Celtics. And he'll be lucky to win 25 games. He didn't know Paul Gaston was going to throw millions of dollars in his direction. Rick Pitino, age 44, did what any of us would have done. He took the money.

One thing I like about Pitino is that he is honest about his seeming dishonesty. No, I'm serious.

On Tuesday, Pitino did a fascinating interview on WEEI in which he was willing to discuss his m.o. He admitted, for example, that we really shouldn't take seriously any praise that is heaped on a player in public because there is a larger issue at stake.

"One thing I learned from my days as an assistant coach with the Knicks is not to knock a player in public," he says. "I'll go the other way. I believe my job is to build trade value in my basketball players. I don't say bad things and I don't say, 'No comment,' because that's the same as saying, 'Yes, I want to trade him.' "

Rick Pitino was publicly ecstatic when he signed Chris Mills. He was going to fit in perfectly. We all know what happened. Pitino has a simple explanation. He has traded Eric Williams for Walter McCarty, John Thomas, and Dontae Jones. He says this is a no-brainer. In other words, things change.

Consider, too, that at one time or another, he has publicly praised Dee Brown and Pervis Ellison. Are we not wise to think that these gentlemen would be best advised to keep their suitcases handy?

But think about it for a minute. What difference do these public pronouncements make? Isn't any team interested in a Pitino player doing its own homework and making up its own mind about the true worth of his players? Why should they care about what he says in public, especially now that he has admitted in public that it really doesn't mean anything, anyway?

Speaking of trades, Pitino swears he isn't trying to unload Chauncey Billups. He says he has received calls about his top draft pick but has never initiated any trade proposals. Never mind that several people in the NBA swear just the opposite. He maintains he is pleased with the kid and would take him all over again.

"I'm trying to figure out when I ever criticized Chauncey, either publicly or privately," Pitino says. "I am not down on him at all. He just has a lot to learn, and so, quite frankly, do Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer.

"I think Chauncey's gonna be terrific. He needs time. He would only be a junior in college. In time, he'll stop leaving his feet when he passes."

Stop. What can we believe? How much of this does Pitino honestly mean? We just don't know. All we can go on is that he had Chauncey on the floor in crunch time against Denver Wednesday night and the young man came up with the killer basket in the lane which boosted the lead to 5 and essentially clinched the game.

But does that mean Chauncey will be here next month or next year? Not necessarily. Go ahead, make Rick Pitino an offer.

"Would I trade Chauncey Billups?" he says. "I would trade anybody if it would benefit the BostonCeltics."

I think that's one we can believe.

Rick Pitino has one ultimate goal, and that is to win that 17th NBA championship for the Celtics. After that, his goal will be to win the 18th. And so on. He will say and do whatever is necessary to make these things happen. We'll do our best to sort through the verbiage.

My best advice to you? Just watch the games.

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