German big man Dirk Nowitzki had a fantastic career with the Dallas Mavericks. In 20 years, he was a 14x All-Star, 12x All-NBA player, 2007 MVP, and an NBA Champion. He was a staple for Dallas basketball and helped lead the franchise to decades of prosperity.
But did you know that the Celtics had their eye on him in the 1998 Draft? Just one pick below the Mavs, Dirk was Boston's preferred choice, and, as Michael Holley of The Boston Globe explained, it was considered a foregone conclusion that that is where he would be going.
Certainly, the Celtics are happy with their selection of Paul Pierce in the No. 10 slot. As general manager Chris Wallace said, “When it came to our draft board, we didn’t have Pierce in our state, let alone our neighborhood.” But many in the organization are still wondering, “What if?” as in “What if Dirk Nowitzki had not been taken before Boston picked?”
It turns out that the Celtics have dreamed of the 6-foot-11-inch Nowitzki for the past month. Their talk that they wouldn’t be able to sign him because of international concerns was a smoke screen to scare off other teams. Some teams bought it; Don Nelson didn’t. Rick Pitino and his staff were so confident that they could get Nowitzki that early during the draft, Celtic representatives were on the phone speaking with the 20-year-old center. Nowitzki was telling them how excited he was with the idea of playing in Boston. And then former Celtic Nelson, coach and general manager of the Mavericks, swooped in and made a deal with the Bucks.
It was a draft-day trade by Dallas that essentially ended Boston's hopes of landing the 7-foot big man. The rest is history.
He would go on to play for two decades with the team, never once leaving the franchise. He became a fan-favorite and an NBA all-time great player. As for Boston, they picked up Paul Pierce with their pick.
While both teams ended up with great players, one has to wonder what might've been had something different happened that draft day.