Archive for Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Losing lottery stroke of luck for Celtics

October 31, 2007

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— Paul Pierce had had enough.

After nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, Pierce, the team's star forward, had next to nothing to show for his efforts with the NBA's signature franchise - the signature now the warped and fading scrawl of a once-relevant team.

And after the Celtics lost the lottery they so desperately wanted - needed - to win, and lost their chance at drafting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, Pierce wondered whether he ever would be on a contending team.

"That definitely crossed my mind, especially this summer," Pierce said. "It seemed like I was at a crossroads with the Boston Celtics, figuring if this was going to be the place where I could try to find a championship."

Pierce put out the word.

He wanted out.

It's amazing how things turn.

Losing the lottery was the best thing that could have happened to Boston.

Once the Celtics were stuck with the fifth pick, and with Pierce demanding action, the team abandoned its plan to build patiently through the draft. On draft night, the Celtics traded the pick and some of their favorite pieces, including guard Delonte West, to Seattle for veteran guard Ray Allen.

And only by making that trade could the Celtics acquire the biggest piece, Kevin Garnett, from Minnesota.

The Celtics were close to getting Garnett before they traded for Allen. But Garnett, waiting to see whether the Timberwolves could trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers to team with Kobe Bryant, initially vetoed the deal, letting the Celtics know he would opt out of his contract next summer and go elsewhere.

"He looked at the team from afar, just like I looked at it up close, and he said, 'Wow, that's not going to be a very good team,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.

But the potential trade to the Lakers fell through. And once Allen was in the fold, Garnett changed his mind.

It took a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the Las Vegas summer league in July for old friends Danny Ainge, Boston's general manager, and Kevin McHale, his counterpart in Minnesota, to make all the pieces fit. But Boston got its man, and Garnett agreed to a multiyear extension with the Celtics beginning next season.

"That was one of the big issues in me moving," Garnett said last week. "I wanted to have plenty of ammo, if you will, with me going into these next five years knowing that's how long I wanted to play. I wanted to have a team that I knew hands down was going to be competitive night in and night out."

Being merely competitive this season would be a disappointment in Boston. Starved since the team's last championship run in the 1980s, Celtics fans are desperate for a winner again after leaving the TD Banknorth Garden half-filled for much of the last few seasons.

Shawn Sullivan, the team's senior vice president of ticket sales, marketing and service, said that since the Celtics acquired Garnett, ticket sales were up 60 percent. The team has stopped selling almost all its partial-game plans, opting to sell full-season ticket packages, which are flying off the shelves.

Ainge's busy summer - he also signed free agents James Posey, Eddie House and Scot Pollard - has ratcheted up hopes.

"It's been frustrating, not just for me, but for all the players, the coaches, and the fans in Boston, where you go into the season hoping to be the 15th-best team in the league," Ainge said. "I'll take the expectations and the hope and the possibility of being an elite team from the first day of camp all the time."

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