NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, still clutching a Portuguese rooster he hoped would bring his team better lottery fortune than it has had in the past, stood in the middle of Times Square Studios in the immediate aftermath of the NBA draft lottery and began scanning the crowd.
"Anyone seen Rich?" Pagliuca asked.
While Pagliuca served as the brave face of the organization during ESPN's show revealing the draft lottery results, team president Rich Gotham drew the less-than-enviable task of being sequestered behind the scenes during the actual pingpong draw about 90 minutes before the on-air broadcast that showed that Boston had landed the sixth pick.
For more than an hour, Gotham had been locked in a nearby room trying to cope with the disappointment of another missed opportunity for the Celtics to land a premium draft position. The Celtics had a 33.4 percent chance at landing a top-three spot, but instead watched the Cleveland Cavaliers vault to No. 1 with only a 1.7 percent chance at the pick.
Gotham knew things had gone awry almost from the moment the process began. Having studied the list of Boston's potential combinations, he was aware the team needed a 4 or a 5 as part of the four-ball draw that determines each of the top three picks. But the first pull produced nothing but large digits, suggesting that not only had another team earned the top spot, but it was one from the back of the lottery pack, diminishing Boston's chances of securing a top-three selection.
In the blink of an eye, the lottery was over. Stripped of all communication to the outside world, Gotham had to fill the next 75 minutes before the public unveil with small talk and his own thoughts.
Pagliuca, who was still scanning the TV studio in search of Gotham, joked, "I've never seen Rich without a phone, so I'm hoping he survived."
Gotham emerged at the far end of the studio. Behind him, an ESPN crew broke down Cleveland's stunning vault, while members of the Cavaliers mugged for pictures on the opposite side.
So how was Gotham's stay in the so-called war room?
"It's an odd room to be in," he said. "You have two or three people who are really happy, then everyone else says, 'What just happened?' Because it happens so quickly. They do the three picks, and it probably takes no more than five minutes to do the three picks, but you are back there for an hour and 15 minutes or so. So it's a little bit of a bummer to be stuck in there.
"At the same time, you can't help it, the wheels start turning about what's next. 'What are we going to do next?' I think the good news this year is that we're going to get a good player. It's a deep draft, [Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge] and his guys will do what they always do, and that's pick the right guy. And we'll go forward and do it the old-fashioned Celtics way: Roll up the sleeves and put the brains to work and figure out how we did it back in '07, which was planned after a lottery where we didn't get a break either."
This wasn't quite the stomach punch of 1997 (Tim Duncan) or 2007 (Greg Oden, Kevin Durant); the Celtics should be able to add a quality player (Aaron Gordon? Julius Randle?). But it still was a missed opportunity. The Celtics don't prefer to leave anything to chance, but a little help from the pingpong balls could have gone a long way to accelerating their rebuilding process, which feels stale after just one season out of the playoff mix.
"To be here, and to be in this room, is to have hope that you're going to get lucky," said Gotham, whose only attempt to foster some good luck on Tuesday was to phone the family of Louis Corbett, the New Zealand boy who is losing his sight and visited the team this season.
"And again, getting lucky isn't a strategy. But I look at it, and I'm not a talent evaluator, I'll leave that to Danny, but I look at the players that are available and I look at No. 6 and I say we're going to get a good player. I'm not walking out of here heartbroken. But would you rather have a higher number? Yeah, I'd rather have a higher number."
This time it was Gotham's turn to scan the room, almost as if giving it one last look.
"It was funny, I was sitting next to the Lakers [director of public relations John Black], and we were pretty much in the same boat in this lottery," Gotham said. "But it was kind of interesting going through that with the Lakers -- two teams that are not generally here, aren't supposed to be here. We had the same experience and we're both like, 'We're never doing that again!' One and only time to visit for the lottery, hopefully."
Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, who had served in the behind-the-scenes role for the disappointment of the 2007 lottery, was a mere spectator inside the television studio Tuesday. Gotham laughed when it was noted that the team's inability to move up this time around might have taken some of the pressure off Grousbeck.
But the team is going to need a full-fledged search party to find someone willing to represent the team in future lotteries.
"Hopefully we don't have to think about that again any time soon," Gotham said.