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Ainge says Celtics likely to take the fifth

WALTHAM -- The usually talkative Danny Ainge did not elaborate on the scheduling of predraft workouts. Despite claiming the need to keep options open, he was vague about which prospects would visit the Celtics' practice facility and when.

As it turned out, top prospects Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Al Thornton, Brandan Wright, and Julian Wright came to town, while Ainge and coach Doc Rivers traveled to see Yi Jianlian, Jeff Green, and Spencer Hawes. The Celtics appeared to take a detour from auditioning players for the No. 5 pick when they brought in shooting guards Nick Young, Quinton Hosley, and Blake Schilb, and forward Joao Gomes yesterday.

So, what is Ainge up to with the NBA draft set for tonight at Madison Square Garden?

A. Desperately hoping to unload the No. 5 pick for veteran talent.

B. Trying to decide among 7-foot Chinese power forward Yi, Florida forward Brewer, and Georgetown forward Green.

C. Figuring out the best option if Boston trades down.

D. He doesn't know.

While an increasingly restless fan base along with some agents and NBA executives might be tempted to pick D, Ainge said yesterday he is prepared for the draft and reached "a point where the only thing that determines who we choose is who's available." And Ainge believes whomever the Celtics select at No. 5 will make an impact next season, though he didn't say how much, what kind of impact, or exactly when.

With Greg Oden and Kevin Durant certain to disappear with the top two picks, the real draft begins when the Hawks select at No. 3. Atlanta's pick (many expect it to be Florida forward/center Horford) will likely determine whether the player Boston has at the top of its list will be available, or if a higher-rated player will slide to No. 5. That is, if the Celtics exercise the pick.

Meeting with reporters for the last time before draft, Ainge said it appeared "unlikely" the Celtics would move the No. 5 pick. But he expects the roster will undergo changes before next season and said he "would like" to make moves in the future.

"I'm expecting to make our pick," said Ainge. "I'm excited about the fifth pick. I think the fifth pick can be an exciting part of our team this year and an important piece of our future."

When asked why he did not expect to trade the pick, Ainge added, "I felt that way from the beginning, that trades are hard to come by. We value our fifth pick. We value the players on the team. There's nothing that we're close to doing."

Funny, at this time last year, Ainge made similar comments about not trading the No. 7 pick. But in a draft-day deal, the Celtics traded the rights to the No. 7 pick (Randy Foye), Raef LaFrentz, Dan Dickau, and cash to the Trail Blazers for Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and a 2008 second-round pick. Trades involving picks can be difficult to complete unless there is a deadline looming. With hours, not days, left until teams select players, consider a deadline upon the Celtics and other franchises looking to make moves.

Ainge conceded the impressions left by some prospects have changed after he watched live workouts, studied more tape, checked backgrounds, and talked at length with players. Judging from comments made by several NBA sources, Yi, Brewer, and Green (in that order) appear to be the top three candidates at No. 5. As Ainge joked yesterday, if Oden slides, the Celtics will take him. The same could be said more seriously about a player such as Horford, though Memphis would almost certainly snap him up at No. 4.

"I won't get into who I've been most impressed with," said Ainge. "But the players that we've all looked at for that top position, I don't think any of them have done anything to change my views negatively toward them. In some cases, some guys have moved up a little bit from where I had them ranked based on just not a workout, but in talking to them and spending some time with them . . . I think all the players that are lottery picks can make an impact, different levels of impact, but they all can step on the court and play in NBA games."

Of course, that is the optimistic spin. While Yi, Brewer, Green, and the rest of the projected lottery picks have their strengths, they will need time to develop. Just hours before the draft, time and patience may be harder to come by than young talent for the Celtics.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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