Larry Brown passed on drafting Paul Pierce because of one bad promise

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Larry Brown passed on drafting Paul Pierce because of one bad promise
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  • Paul Pierce
    Paul Pierce
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Larry Brown
    American basketball coach
  • Larry Hughes
    Larry Hughes
    American basketball player
  • Allen Iverson
    Allen Iverson
    American basketball player

The NBA draft is in seven weeks, prospects are starting to align and teams are beginning to juggle their relative outlooks. Representation will go all in on attempting to secure prime spots for their new clients, either cashing in on or taking out favors with certain teams and general managers as the backs get scratched, slapped, and sometimes stabbed.

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Larry Brown used to be one of those general managers, perhaps not in title but it role, with the Philadelphia 76ers. As he approached his second draft with the team in 1998, the notoriously impatient coach/executive needed to make a splash – he needed an immediate contributor, especially with Allen Iverson set to hit unrestricted free agency in 1999.

So, Kansas junior and All-American Paul Pierce, right? The guy seemed ready-made to drop 20 just about right away, and Tim Thomas (Brown’s pick the prior year) hadn’t exactly excelled in his rookie season the prior year. Brown passed on Pierce, however, in selecting hybrid guard Larry Hughes due to a sad promise. From Mass Live’s Jay King, transcribing an interview with an interview at Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic:

"We took Larry Hughes because (with the eighth pick) because we thought we had a need," he said. "But the reason we took Larry is I promised him when we interviewed him -- we knew we were getting the eighth pick -- I promised him if he was there at (No.) 8 we would take him."

[…]

"I always think you should take the very best player," he said. "Whatever we wrote on the board, we used to write by position during the draft the best players, then we would write needs, and then we would write the best players period. And I always used to tell our staff, we've gotta go for the best player period and not even think about our needs, unless they were very, very close."

Brown went on to say that he felt “good that we honored our commitment,” even if it cost the 76ers a second star in Pierce, who is still playing (and playing well, with 16 points in 30 minutes a game on 53 percent shooting in the postseason) with the Washington Wizards.

Hughes? His uneasy alliance with Iverson last all of a season and a half and 100 games, before being dealt to Golden State in a package that brought Philadelphia Toni Kukoc. Kukoc, like Jerry Stackhouse, Hughes, and Thomas before him and Derrick Coleman, Glenn Robinson and Chris Webber after him, never developed into the second offensive star alongside Allen Iverson.

Hughes would go on to play for six other teams following Golden State, finally stepping away from the NBA in 2012. His career shooting percentage is 40.6.

Pierce would fall to tenth in the draft, taken by Boston. He’s made ten All-Star teams and won an NBA championship with those C’s in 2008, taking the Finals MVP award along the way.

(Brown also passed on selecting Dirk Nowitzki at the same slot.)

This isn’t to rip on Larry Brown (or his ostensible GM, Billy King), as nine other teams passed on picking Pierce up, all knowing full well that he could turn out to be the best player in the draft. Everyone seemed to have an excuse to go elsewhere, though.

The Clippers wanted in on The Next Big Thing. The Grizzlies, sick of the Lee Mayberry Era and having (seemingly) already whiffed on overreaching with Antonio Daniels the year before, needed a sound point man. Golden State and Toronto couldn’t pass on drafting what seemed to be the most explosive scorers in the draft. Pierce would seem to be superfluous in Milwaukee and the Bucks desperately needed competency on the inside. Sacramento also badly needed point guard help, and Don Nelson was smitten with the German 7-footer just one year after being smitten with an Australian 7-footer. Philly? They made a promise.

Pierce, with his slow-down scoring skills and significant time spent on campus, seemed the product of another era, and in a way he was. The modern era, it turns out, as he’ll be the only member of the 1998 draft still earning significant minutes (Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed was also taken in that draft, but he’s a deep reserve) during this part of the postseason.

The kicker here is that even at the time, everyone knew they’d made a mistake, and that Boston had gotten more than a steal. “A steal” is what you get picking 33rd overall, glomming on to a potential rotation player that was expected to go ten slots higher. This was a franchise player, and everyone was aware of it. Boston boss Rick Pitino, a year after falling as far as possible with his two picks in the draft lottery, could not believe his own luck. Check the trades, pal: Pierce was picked by most to win the Rookie of the Year prior to the 1999 season, and until Vince Carter started to pull away sometime that season’s second month, the predictions appeared to be on point.

Paul Pierce has spent the better part of his spring absolutely pissing off fans from Toronto and Atlanta, and it’s quite possible (health-willing) he’ll have a chance to tick off fans from Chicago or Cleveland in the next round. One supposes, after this revelation, Philadelphia fans might be added to that list.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!