Happy 60th birthday, Rick Pitino! Or not.
His reign in Boston was a distaster and was marked by a collossal amount of mistakes and ill-doings. Let's recap Slick Rick's 60 worst moves (for every year of his life) as Celtics' head coach, director of basketball operations and team president.
I've written a large post about his misfortunes (in Russian though), here it's just a brief summary.
#60 to #51 - Signed/drafted/traded for trash
It's a tough task to remember John Thomas (33 games for the Celtics), Tyus Edney (52 games), Marlon Garnett and Jerome Moiso (24 each), Randy Brown (55), Chris Carr and Eric Riley (35 each), Doug Overton (53), Chris Herren (25) or even Danny Fortson (55 games in Green). But all those 10 players came to Boston during the Pitino era.
#50 to #41 - Signed/drafted/traded for trrrash!
But hey, there were also Roy Rogers, Zan Tabak, Reggie Henson, Dwayne Schintzius, Wayne Turner, Rick Brunson, Jamel Thomas, and the three Jones's: Dontae', Popeye and Damone! Ten more players, who averaged about 10-15 games each.
#40 to #31 - Signed/drafted/traded for TRRRRRASSSSSSHHHH!!!
They were all on contract with Pitino's Celtics, but none of them played a game for Boston: Ben Pepper, Chris Mills, Scott Brooks, Tony Massenburg, Eric Washington, Robert Pack, Hot Rod Williams, Josip Sesar, with guest starring Michael Cage and Clarence Weatherspoon (their trade from the Sixers was later revoked). True Legends.
#29 - Became head coach instead of Bird
In theory, Bird could've been walking through that door - in 1997 he decided to become head coach, while Paul Gaston, the owner of the Celtics, offered him only a GM poisition, as Gaston had already agreed on terms with Pitino. Bird went to Indiana, pushed the Pacers into the Finals in 2000, whereas Celtics fans forgot the meaning of the word "playoffs".
#28 - Alienated the fans
In 2000 the attendance in the Garden hit the lowest mark since 1978 (before Bird was in the NBA).
#27 - Kentucky Celtics
In addition to Walker, Pitino signed McCarty and Mercer to the roster, trying to turn the Boston Celtics into UK '96 championship squad. Players were not that bad, but the idea was.
#26 - Kentucky Celtics office, too
Pitino took all his assistants from UK with him, forcing such legends as K.C.Jones and Dennis Johnson out of the team.
#25 - Traded Dee Brown
The last link to the glorious past (Brown played on the same team with Larry Bird) and team captain - nothing is sacred for Pitino. Rumours are that Pitino was too jealous of Brown's voice in the locker room.
#24 - Renounced Rick Fox
Before Brown was named captain, the Celtics had Rick Fox. Pitino needed cap space to sculpt his own version of the team and renounced all his free agents, including the captain. Fox was mad at this, signed with Lakers, took #17, promising he would get a ring before the Celtics get their 17th, and actually earned three of them.
#23 - Made Antoine Walker a captain
No captain? Let's choose Walker for this role. Let's pick the guy, whose main problem (apart from gambling) is lack of motivation and ambitions. Great role model, huh?
#22 - Scolded Pierce and Walker
Pitino was unpopular among the fans and did his best to be unpopular among his players, too. In his typical Ricktator fashion he alienated two top players of his young team. Clearly, it's not the best way to make your personnel stand for you.
#21 - Extended Tony Battie
Battie was a decent player, but he didn't deserve his contract extension in 2000 - $25.2 mln. for 6 years. He was a backup who averaged 20 minutes a game. Not a worthy investment.
#20 - Traded two 2nd round picks for Josip Sesar
Josip who? Pitino traded 2 draft picks for 1 second rounder (47th pick in 2000). 2>1. Even kindergarten students know that. Rick, apparently, doesn't.
#19 - Drafted Jerome Moiso in 2000
Pitino picked the worst player on the worst draft. Enough said.
#18 - Chose Mercer over McGrady
It's easy to look at that draft in hindsight, but the gap between McGrady (7 ASG) and Mercer (out of the league by 2005) is too big to overlook.
#17 - Traded Mercer for Fortson
Yet Ron Mercer was a useful player before the injuries. He started alongside Pierce and complemented him quite well. But Rick Pitino favoured Adrian Griffin, an undrafted 25-year-old. Pitino thought his team needed more inside presence (rightfully so) and brought in Danny Fortson. The truth is - Fortson could be only a backup to Walker. Half a season in Boston, a fractured leg, shipped out to GSW for guys who would never play for the Celtics. In three years the 6th overall Mercer turned into nothing. Good one, Rick!
#16 - Took the job on the assumption that he would get Duncan
In 1997 the Celtics had a record 36.3% chance to get the 1st pick in the lottery and subsequently land Duncan. For Pitino 36.3% probably looked like 99%, as he assumed that if he was to become head coach in Boston, he would coach the most exciting young prospect in 10 years. Unfortunately, the Celtics got no Duncan. More unfortunately, they got Pitino nevertheless.
#15 - Kept on the Duncan mantra
Even before he left the Celtics, Rick confessed that he agreed on the job only to coach Duncan. By saying that he openly told his players: you no duncans, you suck, I wouldn't take this job if I knew I'd get you instead of him. Just lousy.
#14 - Was absolutely sure he would land Nowitzki in 1998
As a NBA coach with NCAA mentality, Pitino thought that once he worked a player out in a locked gym and agreed with him, he locked the prospect. He believed that Nowitzki was the best kept secret and noone would select him in the draft before the Celtics with their #10. As usual, he was wrong. Nowitzki went ninth. And then Pitino panicked - he had no plan B. He took the player who stood highest on mock drafts - luckily, that was Paul Pierce. A rare example of good result off a bad draft work.
#13 - Didn't get Van Horn
Nowadays nobody is excited about Van Horn anymore, but in 1997 he was probably the second most wanted player on the draft night after Duncan. At least he was that in Pitino's mind. Van Horn should've been available at #3, where Boston had a pick, as he had clearly indicated that he didn't want to play for the Sixers, who picked 2nd overall. But Pitino managed to get in a fight with Sixers' management before the draft, and in retort they selected Van Horn and shipped him to the Nets. Anything to prevent the Celtics reach their goals.
#12 - Tried to create a defence-first team from those Celtics
Pitino's favourite "full court press" doesn't work in the NBA, where teams are mature and experienced enough to break that pressing. Besides, in a team made of Walker, Pierce and Kenny Anderson - who was going to press the opponent?
#11 - Didn't re-sign Bowen
Well, if there was a baller in those Celtics teams who was akin to match-up press, that's Bruce Bowen. At first Pitino favoured Bruce, whom he had found playing in minor leagues and France. But then suddenly their relationship cooled off. Bowen left the Celtics (now Adrian Griffin was the new favourite), and in two years the ultimate pest made the All-Defensive Team. Then seven more. And three rings.
#10 - Traded Eric Williams for two 2nd round picks
In 1997 Eric Williams looked like the future of the Green. He showed some promise to be able to put 20 points in the nearest future. But then Pitino decided to clean the roster and traded him for two 2nd round picks (the value of Josip Sesar, by the way). In two years he traded him back - now Eric was just an 8-point scorer with broken knees and a long-term contract.
#9 - Signed Travis Knight to 7-yr, 22-mln. contract
Eh, need I say more? Yet, that wasn't the worst seven-year contract in the summer of 97...
#8 - Signed Chris Mills to 7-yr, 25-mln. contract
Oh yes, let's invite the guy who puts up only 13 points and 6 rebounds a night to become our highest-paid player!
#7 - Traded Chris Mills in two months
And yes, let's immediately trade the guy for four Knicks' bench-warmers! Slick Rick used his ability to switch his mind in the last moment and decided to get rid of the player, whom he had signed two months earlier. It was Mills, for whom Pitino had cleared the cap space (dismissing Fox and others). It was Mills, who was going to give veteran presence. It was Mills, who was going to play defence. But no, Pitino reversed his mind. We don't need Mills anymore, we have other objectives, like, Walter McCarty and those guys who won't play at all, duh.
#6 - Traded 1st round pick for Vitaly Potapenko
The 1999 draft was approaching, and it was known as one of the most deep classes in history. It wasn't full of future hall-of-famers, but it had 9 All-Stars, plus Odom, Terry, Posey, Maggette, Andre Miller... But in February Rick Pitino decided he didn't want any more rookies, no matter how talented, and shipped the pick (Andre Miller eventually) to Cavs for their backup center. With Potapenko Celtics would lose 12 of next 15 games, and all hopes of playoffs were vanished.
#5 - Extended Vitaly Potapenko
Two days after the trade Pitino offered Potapenko a 6-year 33-mln. contract. Vitaly hadn't played a game yet. The Ukraine Train would spend four seasons in the Celtics, registering incredible 90 blocks. Paul Pierce had blocked three times as many during those 4 years.
#4 - Traded Chauncey Billups for Kenny Anderson
Chauncey was the future. Future Finals MVP with 5 ASG appearances and a chance to enter the Hall of Fame. Anderson was the past. Past NCAA phenom, past all-star, past knee problems. Kenny lost his speed and shot by the time he was a Celtic. But Pitino thought that Billups was more of a two-guard and wanted a pure PG. Although Anderson had pretty much the same assist rate as Billups.
#3 - Traded for General Manager Chris Wallace
Pitino was the head coach, director of basketball operations and team President at the same time. The only poistion he didn't hold was GM. He needed one, and his choice was Chris Wallace. Wallace happened to work for the Heat at the time, so Pitino arranged a 2nd round pick swap as compensation. Wallace succeeded Pitino after his resignation, and did his best to become a worthy successor: drafted Kedrick Brown and Joe Forte, signed no decent FA's and traded future all-star Joe Johnson for Tony Delk.
#2 - Pushed Auerbach out to a ceremonial role of Vice-Chairman
"I stop by the Celtics offices to see a friend who works for them. There's a lobby outside the front desk with trophies and pictures hanging everywhere, including year-by-year photos of every Celtics team. So I'm following the photos through the years, seeing players that I hadn't thought of in years, and there's one constant in every photo: Red Auerbach sitting in the middle of the first row, holding a basketball and smiling at the camera. Pick a year and you'll see him: 1956, 1962, 1974. It doesn't matter. And I'm going through the photos and, suddenly, we get to 1998, and there's Rick Pitino and Red sitting in the middle together, awkwardly holding the basketball, and by 1999, Pitino is holding the basketball by himself and Red has been pushed off to the side.
Out of all the injustices over the past few years -- Pitino taking Red's team presidency, Pitino ignoring the old man's advice and treating him like yesterday's news, Pitino ultimately running the franchise into the ground with a series of impetuous moves -- this series of framed photos captured everything. You can see Red getting pushed out. Literally."
-- Bill Simmons, ESPN.com
#1 - Got the job instead of Larry Brown
Larry Brown is the third most successful coach of post-Jordan era: three Finals with two teams, one ring. Only Jackson and Popovich have more. But before Brown's stint with the Sixers, who made it to the 2000 Finals, he could coach in Boston instead of Pitino. When Rick announced that no money in the world could lure him from Kentucky, Larry Brown became the frontrunner for the job. Then, at a golf tournament, Pitino approached Brown and asked him about the terms of the offer Larry had from the Celtics. Again, Slick Rick changed his mind, called Paul Gaston, negotiated for a lucrative 10-year deal, gained absolute power and plunged the team into darkness.
When Larry Brown became a champion with the Pistons, their starting lineup consisted of:
- Chauncey Billups, ex-Celtics player, traded out in 1998;
- Ben Wallace, ex-Celtics summer league player, not signed in 1996;
- Rip Hamilton, #7 pick in 1999 (the Celtics had traded the eventual 8th pick for Potapenko, pick probably could've been higher if DeClercq was the starting center);
- Tayshaun Prince, #22 pick in 2002 (the Celtics had traded the eventual 23th pick with Joe Johnson for Delk and Rogers)
- Rasheed Wallace, on trading block in 2004, traded to the Pistons from the Hawks in a deal that involved the Celtics.