Whether it was Rick Pitino himself is unclear, but someone in “the Pitino group” told former Boston Celtics head coach and GM M.L. Carr to make a trade offer for Tim Duncan in 1997. The Celtics missed out on a golden opportunity to snag the future Hall of Famer in the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery, and the San Antonio Spurs landed the man every team wanted.
Carr represented the Celtics on the night of the lottery. While there, he said he was embarrassingly asked to make an offer for Duncan after the Spurs secured the top pick. The request was even more absurd since Carr had just been replaced as head coach and GM.
The Rick Pitino era with the Boston Celtics was a disaster
Under Carr, who doubled as the Celtics head coach and GM, the team finished with the worst record in franchise history at 15-67 during the 1996-97 season. Pitino replaced Carr as head coach and also assumed the role of team president. Pitino was highly regarded in the college coaching ranks and led Kentucky to a national title in 1996.
To say Pitino didn’t live up to his expectations in Boston would be quite the understatement.
Pitino struggled mightily with the Celtics. In his four seasonsin Boston, he never flirted with a winning season. He compiled a 102-146 record with his best season coming in his first year when the team finished 36-46.
He resigned in the middle of the 2000-01 season after the team started 12-22.
“This organization has treated me like royalty since I came here,” Pitino said after resigning, according to ESPN. “But you know, I’ve been going at this pretty hard now for 3½ years and I haven’t seen many results. It hurts, but life goes on and it will for the players and for the people in this organization.”
‘The Pitino Group’ had M.L. Carr make an offer for Tim Duncan at the NBA Draft Lottery in 1997
The Celtics found themselves in a good position to secure top selection in the 1997 NBA Draft. They had two lottery picks and were fresh off a 15-win season. Instead, they wound up with the third and sixth picks, while San Antonio claimed the No. 1 draft pick. Duncan was the clear-cut favorite to be the first player chosen.
Carr, who had just become the Celtics’ Director of Corporate Development, received a call from the Celtics brass that night telling him to make a pitch to the Spurs for that top pick. Carr said he knew what the answer was going to be but had to follow through on the orders.
“I got a call from the folks in Boston, the Pitino group, asking, ‘Could we give picks to (Spurs coach and president of basketball operations Gregg) Popovich and ask him if he would trade the first pick for a couple — like third and six,” Carr recalled last year, according to NBC Sports. “And, obviously, you gotta do it. It’s what they asked.”
An embarrassed Carr made his pitch for Tim Duncan and it didn’t go over well
Carr had already been embarrassed enough. He just lost 67 games during the season as head coach. He also was the supposed good-luck charm at the NBA Draft Lottery that turned into a disaster. Now, he was asked to make a hopeless pitch for a franchise player.
“I went to Popovich, he felt sorry that I even had to ask,” said Carr. “Because I knew right then, to get Tim Duncan away from San Antonio, we’d have to give them the Prudential Center, all the money on the Mass Pike, you’d have to give them all of the North End, you’d have to give them all the suburbs, and probably the Callahan Tunnel revenue, as well as the Ted Williams revenue for the next 40-50 years. And it still probably wouldn’t have been enough to give it up.
“It was a stupid question. A stupid question you have to ask, and Popovich knew it, so he said, ‘No, we think we’re going to hold onto it.’ I had to do it.”
Duncan went on to win five NBA titles with the Spurs, while the Celtics suffered through four ugly Pitino years.