With the start of the offseason, the discussion of the Boston Celtics’ recent history with their stars began. This discussion quickly elevated to talk of the Celtics’ subsequent inability to retain their stars, specifically Kevin Garnett. After all, the Celtics were the ones that had to sever ties with KG, not the Minnesota Timberwolves. So, I checked in with people around the NBA to see if they had heard the story of how the Celtics once offered Minnesota Timberwolves star Tim Duncan $15 million to play for them. They had not, so I decided to share the story myself. I first heard about the $15 million offer from M.L. Carr, the General Manager of the Boston Celtics at the time. One of my first
The Boston Celtics and head coach Rick Pitino had a bit of a strange business relationship. While Pitino’s coaching skills were indeed top notch, the relationship between him and the Celtics front office was not, to put it lightly. After getting fired from his first coaching job at Kentucky in 1997, Pitino would go on to take the head coaching gig at the University of Louisville. By this time, Pitino’s star was rising, and many were already likening him to Bobby Knight and Larry Brown. However, Pitino and the Celtics ran into problems early on.
The public had a chance to see Rick Pitino’s true colors when he attempted to negotiate a contract with the very person who kicked him out of his job as Celtics GM, M.L. Carr. Carr gave Pitino a contract that would have been around $3 million more per season than the contract Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs, as Pitino alleges. However, as Carr is no longer the Celtics GM, this is a moot point as the only person that can sign Duncan is Danny Ainge.
It’s uncertain whether it was Rick Pitino personally who instructed M.L. Carr, the former Boston Celtics head coach and general manager, to make a trade offer for Tim Duncan in 1997. In the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery, the Celtics lost out on a great chance to land the future Hall of Famer, and the San Antonio Spurs got the guy everyone wanted.
Carr was the Celtics’ representative on the night of the lottery. He claimed he was asked to make a humiliating offer for Duncan after the Spurs clinched the first selection while he was there. Carr had recently been removed as head coach and general manager, making the proposal even more ridiculous.
The Boston Celtics’ Rick Pitino era was a catastrophe.
The Boston Celtics’ head coach, Rick Pitino, watches a game versus the Orlando Magic at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florida. | Allsport/Andy Lyons
The Celtics completed the 1996-97 season with the lowest record in club history, 15-67, under Carr, who also served as head coach and general manager. Pitino took over as head coach and president of the club, succeeding Carr. Pitino was a well-known collegiate coach who guided Kentucky to a national championship in 1996.
To suggest Pitino fell short of his expectations in Boston would be an understatement.
Pitino had a tough time with the Celtics. He never had a winning season in his four seasons in Boston. He went 102-146 in his career, with his best year coming in his first year, when the club went 36-46.
After a 12-22 start to the 2000-01 season, he resigned in the midst of the season.
According to ESPN, Pitino stated after retiring, “This company has treated me like royalty since I got here.” “But, you know, I’ve been working on this for 312 years and haven’t seen much progress. It stings, but life continues on for the players and the people in this organization, and it will continue to do so.”
M.L. Carr, a member of ‘The Pitino Group,’ made a bid for Tim Duncan during the NBA Draft Lottery in 1997.
The Celtics were in a strong position to earn the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. They were coming off a 15-win season and had two lottery selections. Instead, they got the third and sixth overall selections, while San Antonio got the first overall pick. Duncan was unquestionably the favorite to be the first player selected.
Carr, who had just been promoted to Director of Corporate Development for the Celtics, got a call from team management that night instructing him to make a presentation to the Spurs for the top selection. Carr said that he knew what the response would be, but that he had to carry out the instructions.
According to NBC Sports, Carr remembered receiving a call from the Pitino group in Boston asking, “Could we send selections to (Spurs coach and president of basketball operations Gregg) Popovich and ask him if he would swap the first pick for a couple — like third and sixth?” “And, of course, you have to do it. It’s what they’ve requested.”
Carr made his case for Tim Duncan, ashamed, and it didn’t go over well.
Future of the Celtics (in 1997): Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Chauncey Billups & Rick Pitino. That didn’t go so well: pic.twitter.com/RmeSj6YB
May 1, 2012 — SI Vault (@si vault)
Carr has already experienced his share of embarrassment. During his first season as head coach, he only lost 67 games. He was also the purported good luck charm during the NBA Draft Lottery, which went horribly wrong. He was now expected to make a futile push for a franchise player.
“I went to Popovich, and he expressed regret that I had to ask,” Carr said. “Because I knew right then that if we wanted to get Tim Duncan out of San Antonio, we’d have to give them the Prudential Center, all the money on the Mass Pike, all of the North End, all of the suburbs, and probably the Callahan Tunnel revenue, as well as Ted Williams revenue for the next 40-50 years. Even yet, it’s unlikely that giving it up would have been enough.
“It was a blunder of a question. You had to ask a dumb question, and Popovich understood that, so he replied, ‘No, we believe we’ll keep it.’ It was something I had to do.”
Duncan went on to win five NBA championships with the Spurs, while the Celtics had four dreadful years under Pitino.
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