The One that Got Away

June 12, 2005
You can't help but wonder and sometimes wondering is a lot more fun than reality.

  You ask, what if certain things had happened and certain people had made different decisions and, well, it makes for a sobering, even haunting reality. Because when you see the teams that are competing in this year's NBA Finals, you think, with a little bit of luck and a little bit of rolling the dice, many of these same guys could be playing for the Celtics. Some of them, of course, already have.

        Without extrapolating too much, here is what Boston might have had.

   Center: Ben Wallace. This is not that much of a reach, although the Celtics were one of many, many teams that had a shot at him. But what separates the Celtics from a lot of the other teams is that they actually passed three times on Wallace, twice after having him in for workouts. The first time was in 1996, when Wallace attended their Summer League after going undrafted out of Virginia Union. TheCeltics also had a shot at Wallace in a small minicamp in Florida after Rick Pitino took over. Finally, after the lockout ended in January 1999, Pitino (you'll read that name again) had a chance to sign Wallace, still raw and unproven, but instead opted for Eric Riley and, ahem, Dwayne Schintzius.

   Power forward: Tim Duncan. OK, OK, we all know how this one ended. But go back into the archives and you realize how badly the Celtics did that May afternoon in Secaucus in 1997. They had a 36 percent chance of getting the top pick, which is a lot more than most teams have these days. (Atlanta had a 25 percent chance in the most recent lottery.) They had an extra first-rounder (from Dallas) and they went into the lottery with the second-best chance overall while Vancouver, with the best chance at the No. 1 pick, was barred from getting it by virtue of its original expansion agreement. The Celticsended up with the third and sixth picks, and Duncan went to the Spurs. So what if the Celtics had won? Well, Duncan subsequently 'fessed up that there were two teams he did not want to play for: the Clippers (which we all understand) and the Celtics. Why not Boston? Duncan has never elaborated, and when asked recently, he said he didn't remember saying it. But the rigors of playing for Pitino had to factor in. (Can't you see Rick yelling, "Tim, son, block out!"?) He would have definitely left after three years and gone to Orlando, where Doc Rivers might have a few rings by now. Then there was also the presence of Antoine Walker. Duncan spent four years at Wake Forest and one guy he particularly did not enjoy playing against was Walker, who played at Kentucky and was well-known for his trash talking.

   Small forward: Bruce Bowen. The Celtics, of course, gave Bowen his first real shot in the NBA. Pitino signed him in 1997 and Bowen spent two seasons with the Celtics before beginning a journey that included stops in Philadelphia, Miami, and San Antonio. (He also was traded to Chicago, but was released before he ever played for the Bulls). Bowen has made himself into one of the NBA's top defenders, arguably its best perimeter defender. Think he couldn't help Boston now? But Bowen has found a home in San Antonio and is happy being the fifth option on the Spurs. "He's like the guy who wants to be the best doctor, the best plumber, the best lawyer, the best whatever," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He wants to be the best at what he does. That's Bruce Bowen."

Shooting guard: Chauncey Billups. We got him first. And, let's be honest, quite a few teams had shots at Billups along the way, including Minnesota, which traded him because he wasn't a classic point guard and then gave tons of dough to Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell. Billups was never a pure point guard, which is what Pitino hoped he'd be and why Pitino traded him after only three months for Kenny Anderson. Now, if the Celtics had won the lottery in 1997, they might not have had a chance at Billups. But we're in the "what if?" business here, so maybe they end up with 1 and 3 and get both Duncan and Billups.

   Point guard: Tony Parker. This remains, even today, one of the most ludicrous moves in recent Celticshistory. They knew about Parker. They worked him out. They were amazed by his speed. They had three first-round picks that year (2001) and still didn't take him, even though they had a need to develop a point guard. Instead, they took Joseph Forte. Hey, the Magic needed a point guard, too, and took Jeryl Sasser instead of Parker. They were concerned about Parker's size, already having a smallish point guard in Darrell Armstrong.

   Bench: Lindsey Hunter (he was traded to the Celtics along with Chucky Atkins, but never reported and was re-signed by the Pistons) and Tony Massenburg (acquired by Pitino and quickly sent packing, much to Massenburg's delight).

   Coach: Larry Brown: We had him. He was ready to come in 1997 after leaving Indiana, and he was looking forward to it. Then he made the mistake of playing golf with Pitino (who had rebuffed theCeltics at that point) and remarking how generous Paul Gaston was with his money. No sooner had the last putt dropped on the 18th hole than Pitino was back in the picture. Brown is still waiting for the phone call from Gaston.


  Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge felt compelled to shoot down a trade rumor involving Paul Pierce to Portland for Nick Van Exel and the No. 3 pick.

   Maybe that was, as Ainge told ESPN.com, "ludicrous," but where there's smoke, there's fire. In other words, Pierce is out there.

   My guess is that Portland wouldn't go for the deal as outlined, but that Ainge would leap at it. Or he should. Portland doesn't want Pierce. Can you imagine him with all those knuckleheads?

   Portland also doesn't want to add Pierce's sizable salary to an already bloated payroll, and why would the Blazers pass on a possible star at No. 3 and surrender a valued asset in the nonguaranteed contract of Van Exel?

   But why wouldn't the Celtics do that deal? Assuming they couldn't get Utah's Andrew Bogut or North Carolina's Marvin Williams in the draft, they'd have a shot at Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul or Deron Williams of Illinois at No. 3. While Paul has the pub, a lot of NBA executives prefer Williams, who's bigger, stronger, and a terrific big-game player.


  The future of Jose Juan Barea , the dynamo point guard from Northeastern, is very much up in the air.

   He was not on the list of players for the Chicago predraft camp, possibly because of knee trouble he experienced recently in Puerto Rico. He threw his name out for the draft, but his college coach, Ron Everhart , said, "I expect him to pull out. But I don't know if that means he will come back [to NU for his senior year]."

   There have been reports that Barea could go overseas instead of playing one more year of college ball.

   When his situation was run by Pistons guard Carlos Arroyo , one of Barea's idols, the NBA veteran had this to offer: "I went four years to college and I got better every year. It really helped my game. If he thinks he can improve his game and his drafting position, then he should stay in school. But each person has to make that decision with his family and do what's best."

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