Although it’s nothing more than a distant memory now, there was a time and place when the Celtics were poised to draft the San Antonio big man. During the 1996-97 season, the Celtics finished with the league’s second-worst record at 15-67, but couldn’t come up with the No. 1 lottery pick. The Spurs drafted Duncan, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But it’s precisely the fact that the Celtics didn’t end up with Duncan that now has former coach Rick Pitino saying he regrets his decision in 1997 to leave the Wildcats for the pros.
“I think I do regret leaving Kentucky because I took over a team with 15 wins banking everything on the Tim Duncan lottery,” Pitino told 790 the Ticket in Miami, “and once we didn’t get Tim Duncan I realized that leaving Kentucky was not a good move.”
Of course, the Celtics did end up with Chauncey Billups third overall in that draft, who was certainly a better pick than No. 2 Keith Van Horn. Nonetheless, the Celtics missed out on a franchise-altering player, Boston went 102-146 under Pitino and Billups won his NBA Finals MVP award with Detroit in 2004.