The year was 1997, and Rick Pitino’s Boston Celtics were looking for a bounceback season, as it had been more than a decade since their last title.
Pitino, who is not remembered fondly in Boston, was prepared to make a splash with a big trade.
Here are the details of it:
"The only reason that trade didn't go through is I felt our fans wanted a sixth championship — and I wanted a sixth championship.”
Jerry Reinsdorf details why he — not Michael Jordan — vetoed a Scottie Pippen-Tracy McGrady trade at the 1997 NBA Draft
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 19, 2022
As he was ready for his first NBA draft, Pitino was hoping to get the No. 5 pick in the 1987 NBA draft for two picks in the upcoming draft.
Here was the proposed trade:
- The Celtics receive forward Scottie Pippen
- The Bulls receive the No. 3 and No. 6 picks in the 1997 draft
Jerry Reinsdorf, the longtime owner and chairmen of the Bulls, said that he vetoed the trade that would have landed rookie Tracy McGrady in Chicago.
There was also a rumor that Michael Jordan threatened to retire if the trade had occurred.
The Celtics had suffered some lean years, as they had not won a title since 1986.
Therefore, it appeared to be a decent deal for both squads.
However, it did not happen.
— 90s NBA (@NBA90s) December 3, 2021
Meanwhile, the two-time champion Bulls forged ahead and ran it back for the “Last Dance.”
So, what would have happened if the Celtics and Bulls made the swap?
Would the Bulls still have won the 1998 NBA title or could the Chicago franchise have turned the No. 3 and No. 6 picks into more than one title?
Would the Celtics have gotten a title earlier than 2008?
Let us take a look:
What Would Have Happened If The Trade Went Through?
If the Celtics and Bulls had made the trade in 1997, the five-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls would have made the following selections in the draft:
- No. 3: Tracy McGrady
- No. 6: Ron Mercer
Meanwhile, the Celtics would have received a seven-time all-star and three-time NBA First-Teamer in Pippen.
At the time, the Celtics were not a championship contender while the Bulls were the cream of the crop.
Chicago was coming off 72- and 69-win seasons.
The lowly Boston franchise had won a combined 83 games in the past three seasons.
Pitino had replaced M.L. Carr, who was a two-time champion as a player with Boston.
Unfortunately, Carr was 48-116 in his NBA coaching career.
Pitino was looking to help the Celtics turn the page, and Pippen could have helped that.
Well, McGrady could have helped in Boston, too.
McGrady could have also blossomed in Chicago next to Jordan and the powerful Bulls.
Maybe Chicago’s front office shared that it was interested in McGrady, but Boston did not go with the future Hall of Famer.
That is a moot point anyway since Boston ended up going with Billups and Mercer.
The Celtics decided to choose Billups, who is yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, and of course, Mercer is not going to Springfield.
As many Boston fans remember, Billups did not call the FleetCenter home for long.
Just 51 games into his rookie year, Pitino shipped him off to — of all places — Toronto, the team that selected McGrady No. 9 overall.
Billups, the current Portland Trail Blazers head coach, had success throughout his career and was the NBA Finals MVP for the 2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
It would have been nice for Celtics fans to enjoy the stylings of Billups — or Pippen or McGrady, for that matter — in Boston, but none of it happened.
If Billups had been a Celtic for longer, or if Pippen had been a Celtic, maybe Boston would have been a champion early in the 2000s.