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Lottery ruminations

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  May 24, 2007 02:50 PM

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When you think about it, they make a phenomenal fuss over a boring TV show.

I don't know how it came across for those of you at home, but being there and watching NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver open envelopes and drone, "The 14th pick goes to the Los Angeles Clippers," and so on, is not exactly up there with "The Sopranos" or "24" in excitement value. But it has to be done, I guess.

I'd love to know what the NBA spends for this thing. They invite a whole lot of people, and once you get beyond the club reps and the media I have no idea who the others are, but I'm going to take a wild guess and assume they have something to do with sponsors. In sports nowadays, everything has to do with sponsors.

Anyway, the spread was at least high lottery level, and that's before we even get to the open bar. The NBA does know how to throw a party, and given that the party was in Secaucus, it was doubly impressive. Yes, that's a cheap shot at Secaucus, but they're used to it. Their original fame was a proliferation of pig farms, in case you didn't know.

I plopped myself down next to Tom Heinsohn. To me, he was as good a choice as anyone to help bring the Celtics some good luck. After all, he was a home boy who grew up at 15th and Kerrigan Avenue in Union City, approximately two miles from where we were sitting.

"You nervous?" I asked.

"Bobby," he said (with mother passed on he is one of maybe three people left who call me "Bobby"), "they're asking me how I'm gonna feel. My guys at Fox Sports are asking me how I'm gonna feel. I don't know how I'm going to feel. It's like taking a shot at the end of the game. If it goes in -- good. If not, head to the locker room and have a
beer."

"Bring a good luck charm?" I inquired.

"My wife, Helen, that's my good luck charm," he replied.

Helen Heinsohn has survived major health scares in the past few years. It was a reasonable presumption.

The Commissioner was working the room after having presided over an informal press conference. At that conference he had addressed the lottery in general, and, for the zillionth time, declared that he was sleeping very well in the aftermath of the Phoenix suspensions many of us think unfairly impacted the Suns-Spurs series.

"There were 19 players on the respective benches," he pointed out. "Two people went on the floor. There is no question those two (Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw) came off the bench," he said. "That is precisely what the rule calls for. And the reason the rule is in effect is because we zealously guard the court."

Wyc Grousbeck paid a visit to the table, and I had to ask him just how he was approaching this thing. "We've been talking about this for weeks, and the thing Danny keeps saying is, 'In five or six years, five or six of these guys will be regarded as great players, but the focus is on the one and two.’ So I'll go with that flow."

(I think that means he was kinda hoping to win).

I asked about a good luck charm. "This suit is it, I guess," he said. The suit in question is a charcoal grey suit with green pinstripes. I read elsewhere he had it made in Florence, and I assume that was the one with all the museums in Italy and not the town in Alabama. Let me say it takes courage to wear that suit in public.

Jerry West, President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies speaks to Wyc Grousbeck, Managing Partner, Governor and Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Celtics prior to the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery on May 22, 2007 at outside the NBATV Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.

(Getty Images Photo / Jennifer Pottheiser)

We moved into the studio itself around 7:50 p.m. I looked down from my perch at one point and there, 25 feet away, was some powerful NBA history chatting away. I'm talking about a trio of Jerry West (Memphis), Lenny Wilkens (Seattle) and Heinsohn. (Boston).

I mean, Holy Bleep. Think about it: There stood 2,984 NBA games and 62,704 points (regular season and playoffs combined). There stood 17 NBA championships as players, coaches and GMs. There stood three members of the Hall of Fame. There stood a combined total, give or take a year, of 145 years of combined NBA experience.

Standing a few feet away were Larry Bird and Mike Dunleavy. When I look at Mike Dunleavy, the Clippers' coach, three things come to mind: 1. He played in the Boston Shootout. 2. He had 31 points when Rockets coach Del Harris, desperate to win the game, used six men, and six men only, as the Rockets beat the Celtics in Game 4 of the 1981 Finals. 3. The older he gets, the more he looks like J. Edgar Hoover.

By the way, how's this for a starting five comprised of NBA retired greats present in that studio?

C- Patrick Ewing
F- Larry Bird
F - Dominique Wilkins
G - Jerry West
G - Lenny Wilkens

I think they'd give the Spurs and Pistons a go.

You all know what happened.

Portland won it, despite arriving with a five percent chance. As luck would have it, I had breakfast on Monday morning at my Manhattan hotel with none other than Kevin Pritchard, the general manager of the Trail Blazers.

I think I can say with certainty he did not come East expecting to win. He was in the company of his girlfriend, and the only thing on his mind was getting out and enjoying the sun. They were having a nice weekend in New York; nothing more, nothing less. I hope that doesn't make you too sick.

Heinsohn referred to the idea that Memphis, Boston and Milwaukee would come into the lottery 1, 2, and 3 and would wind up finishing at 4, 5, and 6 as "unbelievable."

But many of you have called it something else. Incidentally, the first angry e-mail arrived at 9:02 p.m. on the night of the lottery. It seems that many fans think there is some kind of anti-Celtic conspiracy afoot, and they think David Stern is behind it. I cannot stress strongly enough how preposterous and erroneous that is. Believe me, if Stern could have manipulated the lottery, Greg Oden would be here. David fully recognizes the historic importance of this franchise, and he further recognizes how amazing their run of bad fortune is.

Now, is there some good for the league by having either Oden or Kevin Durant in the Northwest? Well, sure. The Trail Blazers have gone through some rough times. "Jail Blazers," anybody? And Seattle is fighting for its very existence. Oden is surely going to Portland despite Pritchard's refusal to commit on the spot, citing the "process", and now Durant is going to Seattle. Will his name help get them the new arena they rather desperately need? Perhaps.

But Stern's idol was Red Auerbach. He is no Boston hater. It pains him to see the Celtics in their current state. If he could have helped them, he would have. But he can't.

I guess not enough of the angry fans realize that the NBA allowed four members of the media into the actual room where the Ping-Pong balls fell. They saw it all happen. The thing is on the up-and-up. Period. Sorry, all you conspiracy theorists.

Should they again re-jigger the formula? I say yes. Give the team with the worst record at least a 50 percent chance of getting the number one pick. Right now the number is 25 percent.

But we're going to keep having a lottery of some sort. "Everything can be put up for discussion by the owners,” Stern said. "But it's in keeping with the tradition to have something that will help improve the weakest teams."

No matter what the league does, there will always be teams that are willing to maneuver their way downward when the occasion arises. Stern says that the league monitors the situation, but there is a limit to what they can, or will, do.

"We don't tell teams who to play," he declared. "We're not going to coach 14 teams."

OK, David, we hear you. Just don't lose that caterer's number. I'd say they were at least a 3 pick.

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