SI Vault
Ian Thomsen
October 30, 2000
His team is headed nowhere again, but Rick Pitino could be headed elsewhere—like back to college
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October 30, 2000

11 Boston Celtics

His team is headed nowhere again, but Rick Pitino could be headed elsewhere—like back to college

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Projected Lineup



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Paul Pierce


19.5 ppg

5.4 rpg

3.0 apg

2.08 spg

44.2 FG%


Antoine Walker


20.5 ppg

8.0 rpg

3.7 FG%

1.43 spg

43.0 FG%


Vitaly Potapenko


9.2 ppg

6.3 rpg

0.37 bpg

49.9 FG%

68.1 FT%


Adrian Griffin


6.7 ppg

2.5 apg

5.2 rpg

1.61 spg

42.4 FG%


Kenny Anderson


14.0 ppg

5.1 apg

2.7 rpg

1.70 spg

44.0 FG%



1999-2000 KEY STATS


Tony Battie


6.6 ppg

5.0 rpg

0.85 bpg

0.57 spg

47.7 FG%


Randy Brown


6.4 ppg

3.4 apg

2.4 rpg

1.03 spg

36.1 FG%


Eric Williams


7.2 ppg

2.3 rpg

1.4 apg

42.7 FG%

79.3 FT%


Jerome Moiso (R)


13.0 ppg

7.6 rpg

1.2 apg

1.67 bpg

50.1 FG%


Bryant Stith


5.6 ppg

1.9 rpg

1.4 apg

45.5 FG%

30.4 3FG%

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

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 mat'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."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]