Contrary to popular perception, the NBA Draft is not a selection process, at least not for the Celtics. It sounds more like a big contingency plan. Imagine the Boston draft board as a high-stakes, adult version of choose your own adventure. If you like high school talent, go to Robert Swift or maybe Al Jefferson. If another team takes Swift or Jefferson, and if foreign players intrigue you (and if offending Utah doesn't worry you), go to Russian Sergey Monia.
While the Celtics allegedly long ago committed to 7-footer Swift at the No. 15 spot, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge wants his options open and well considered. It may depend more on whom Portland picks at No. 13. Reportedly, the Trail Blazers are interested in both Swift and Jefferson. Utah wants Monia with its No. 14 pick. Boston would be happy with either Swift or Jefferson.
Ainge estimates he has discussed or devised hundreds of contingency plans in just the past week, though 5-10 will realistically be on the table for tonight's draft.
A recent report out of Chicago mentioned the possibility of a trade that would send Paul Pierce to the Bulls for Tyson Chandler, the 2004 No. 3 pick, and either Scottie Pippen, Eddie Robinson, or Jerome Williams. It will likely be the first of many trade rumors concerning Pierce to surface this summer. Ainge categorically denied the report. ("It's not happening," he said. "Don't believe the Internet, please.")
But Ainge commented with less certitude about the many draft opportunities available to the Celtics, who currently hold picks Nos. 15, 24, and 25.
When asked whether he planned to exercise all three picks, Ainge said, "I just don't know. I have a lot of contingency plans based on how the draft is going. I have contingency plans of trading. But my [first] plan is to draft all three, knowing that things could change during the process of the draft. So, it probably won't be as it seems on draft day. There will be players drafted, but wait about 15 minutes before you get disappointed or excited. That pick could have been a trade -- I wish we had a little bit more time in between picks, but we have all those contingencies set up beforehand."
A couple of things remain clear. One, Boston will draft the best player available, without consideration of the current roster. The franchise remains so far away from being championship caliber that filling specific needs is not a consideration. The wish list is simply too long.
Two, the draft will reveal just how long the rebuilding process could last. Add a couple of high schoolers to an already young roster, and the Celtics are looking four or five years down the line. Ainge would prefer high schoolers not be eligible for the draft. He would rather supply coach Doc Rivers with three college All-Americans, but both men realize that desire does not work with NBA reality these days.
So, Ainge and Rivers prefer to talk about prospects in terms of character traits and tale of the tape, not names and ages. And in that regard, the Celtics' wish list bears an unavoidable resemblance to those of the 29 other teams in the league -- size, toughness, good work ethic, skill, coachability, competitiveness, etc. That said, players mentioned for the Celtics' No. 24 and 25 picks include Texas Tech guard Andre Emmett, Southeastern Illinois guard Donta Smith, Western Carolina guard Kevin Martin, Virginia Tech forward Bryant Matthews, and Russian forward Viktor Khryapa.
"We'll be able to address at least one need in this draft," said Rivers. "But can you address all your needs through a draft? Probably not. I think that's unrealistic. It would be great if it happened. It would probably be luck, too." "We need another point. That's really important. We need size. I think you can ditto that 30 times in the NBA. Every team is going to say that. Every kid that we draft has to have some toughness, even though I'm not looking for a rookie to give us toughness. I would love to find a small forward with size because I think it would force teams to guard Paul in a way we dictate."
For the record, Rivers "would be very surprised if Paul Pierce was not in a green jersey next year and for a long time." He believes Boston can build around Pierce. It's simply a question of what pieces the team can add as complements.
Filling one need with three first-round picks does not seem like a tall order, even by NBA standards. But league-wide, this may be the toughest year to pin down with a mock draft, to identify potential and avoid pitfalls. No consensus No. 1. A shortage of certain impact players. More teams than usual looking to downgrade in exchange for immediate help by way of a veteran, which may benefit the Celtics if they want to move up.
Ainge and Co. could also move down, which may be a more practical direction given how Rivers views the draft. "It seems like a deep draft," said Rivers. "It doesn't seem like an impact draft. But I do think it's a draft that in 10 years from now there'll be ton of players [selected in it] still playing in the league.
"The draft is younger and younger every year. And quite honestly, more athletic and less skilled every year. You have a bunch of players who have to be taught the game. That's fine. You get more experience through trades and free agency, and that's the only way you can do it. We need more talent. If they have to be rookies, they have to be rookies."