Many NBA teams over the years have done a horrid job hiring coaches. This episode of THE WORST argues that the 1997 Boston Celtics did … the worst.
The Celtics plucked Pitino out of college. It was his second time making that leap, the first being a (fairly successful!) departure from Providence College to turn the Knicks around. Pitino had since retreated to Kentucky and won an NCAA Championship in 1996. Boston called him back up to the pros, asking him to not only coach his former star, Antoine Walker, but to take over as president and build the team around him.
Hiring a college guy to coach the NBA is risky, even if he’s got experience. Letting a coach construct his own roster is also risky. Despite sounder available options — Celtics legend and future award-winning coach Larry Bird, for instance —Boston took both those risks with Pitino, and gave him a record-setting contract for his trouble.
And boooooy did he have trouble. Pitino the president missed drafting some huge talents, traded people willy-nilly just because he could, and threw tons of money at awful big men. Pitino the coach prematurely dismissed one huge talent he did draft (Chauncey Billups), failed to win with another (Paul Pierce), and spent the rest of his time either draining the team with his college-style intensity or whining about the players on his roster (who, again, were put there by him).
Rick Pitino’s had a lot of success, and made a lot of ugly headlines. He’s the quintessential college coach. But in his stint with the Celtics, he was just pure, unadulterated suck. Given the alternatives, given the resources wasted and the games lost, this hire by the Celtics is a strong contender for the worst ever.
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