11 Boston Celtics His team is headed nowhere again, but Rick Pitino could be headed elsewhere--like back to college

October 30, 2000

Consider this: the Los Angeles Clippers have a more promising
future than the Boston Celtics. That, of course, could change
faster than you can say Donald Sterling, but a succession of
dubious personnel moves have left the Celtics with virtually no
room to maneuver under the salary cap and just as little chance
of making the playoffs--a place they haven't been since 1995.
Furthermore, the man responsible for this predicament, president
and coach Rick Pitino, is still owed a reported $36 million on a
contract that runs through 2006-07.

Pitino has indicated that he'll walk away from his guaranteed
contract if Boston doesn't make major improvements this year. A
lifelong winner before taking over the Celtics in '97, Pitino
needs a trip to the playoffs to restore his reputation. Since
arriving in Boston his failures have been many, the most
surprising of which has been the Celtics' lack of effort and
intensity, hallmarks of Pitino-coached teams for nearly two
decades. One explanation for Boston's uninspired play is that
Pitino the executive hasn't supplied Pitino the coach with very
good players. Another is that players are refusing to embrace his
system for the first time in his career. "Probably 60 to 70
percent of the team believed in the system last year, and the
others didn't," says co-captain Paul Pierce. "We need 12, 13, 14
guys to buy into it."

The fact that a player can comfortably suggest that Pitino does
not have control of his team is actually an encouraging sign. In
earlier years the Boston coach made it clear to his players that
no such freedom of speech would be tolerated. That autocratic
approach might work in college but not in the NBA, where players
expect much greater latitude. It has also hindered the
development of any true locker-room leaders.

Two years ago Pitino named Antoine Walker co-captain at age 22,
hoping that the move would inspire the talented but mercurial
forward to embrace a leadership role. Though Walker has shown
flashes of brilliance--he made the All-Star team in his second
season--Pitino's frequent criticisms of his poor conditioning have
done little to motivate Walker but plenty to turn Celtics fans
against the young player. Last year Walker was subjected to
relentless booing at home, and Pitino shopped him over the summer
but found no takers.

"To be involved in trade talks is not the worst thing, because
every player in the league goes through it at one time or
another," says Walker, who is still a co-captain. "But I'm human,
too, and when you're constantly being mentioned [in trade talks]
it bothers you to a degree. But that's behind me. I understand
losing brings out a lot of negatives. I want to be part of it
when we turn that around and make the playoffs."

Pitino made a few good off-season moves, acquiring guards Randy
Brown and Bryant Stith, two team-first veterans who can keep the
younger Celtics focused. Brown is a tempting alternative to Kenny
Anderson, one of those players who has resisted the Pitino
system. Though Anderson still puts up decent numbers, Boston
hasn't run or pressed with consistency since he was acquired from
the Raptors in February 1998.

The Celtics' best chance of challenging for a playoff spot hinges
on the 23-year-old Pierce, who nearly lost his life when he was
stabbed at least seven times in a Boston nightclub in late
September. After undergoing emergency surgery to repair a damaged
lung, Pierce returned to the team with remarkable speed, missing
only three exhibition games. In coming back so soon, he set an
example of dedication that can't be ignored and perhaps
established himself as the much-needed strong presence in the
locker room.

"When you don't go out and play as a team, it's hard to win,"
Pierce says. "Being captain is something I wanted to do. I want
to be a voice in the locker room and to lead through hard work. I
know I haven't been in the league a long time, but I'm tired of
losing. "


COLOR PHOTO: NOREN TROTMAN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT FAST HEALER Pierce's quick comeback from severe knife wounds should win him followers in the locker room.

In Fact

Kenny Anderson (5.1 assists last year) averaged a career-high 9.6
assists when he played for the Nets in 1993-94. The highest
assists average in Celtics history is 9.5, by Bob Cousy in
'59-60, the last time a Celtic led the NBA in assists.

Projected Lineup


SF Paul Pierce 19.5 ppg 5.4 rpg 3.0 apg 2.08 spg 44.2 FG%

PF Antoine Walker 20.5 ppg 8.0 rpg 3.7 FG% 1.43 spg 43.0 FG%

C Vitaly Potapenko 9.2 ppg 6.3 rpg 0.37 bpg 49.9 FG% 68.1 FT%

SG Adrian Griffin 6.7 ppg 2.5 apg 5.2 rpg 1.61 spg 42.4 FG%

PG Kenny Anderson 14.0 ppg 5.1 apg 2.7 rpg 1.70 spg 44.0 FG%


F-C Tony Battie 6.6 ppg 5.0 rpg 0.85 bpg 0.57 spg 47.7 FG%

G Randy Brown[1] 6.4 ppg 3.4 apg 2.4 rpg 1.03 spg 36.1 FG%

F Eric Williams 7.2 ppg 2.3 rpg 1.4 apg 42.7 FG% 79.3 FT%

F Jerome Moiso (R)[1] 13.0 ppg 7.6 rpg 1.2 apg 1.67 bpg 50.1 FG%

G Bryant Stith[1] 5.6 ppg 1.9 rpg 1.4 apg 45.5 FG% 30.4 3FG%

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Celtics

"They practice hard, and they're tough-minded. Otherwise I don't
know where to begin with them. They are so bad....They cannot
defend against anybody. Rick Pitino can coach, but it's hard to
be successful without personnel. Maybe that makes him a lousy
executive. After three years, they should be better than they
are....I don't understand their long-term strategy. It's hard to
improve when the answer to everything is a quick fix. They're in
serious trouble in terms of the salary cap and their roster.
There are so many questions about a franchise that was once so
solid and rich in tradition....Paul Pierce is their best player
by far. He can become one of the best players in the conference
in a couple of years. But is he going to re-sign when his
contract is up after the 2001-02 season if Pitino is still
there?...It wouldn't be a surprise to people around the league
if Pitino walked away from his contract and ended with some
major college program in the spring."