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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Outlook: Forever young

The young get younger.

The average age on the Boston Celtics roster was 25.33 years old before last night at 9:15. After grabbing 19-year-old high school swingman Gerald Green with the 18th pick in the 2005 draft, the Boys in Green will feature seven players on their roster who are 23 years old or younger.

Considering 36-year-old Gary Payton is already out the door and 28-year-old Antoine Walker has one foot out the door, and that Boston would like to show 30-year-old Mark Blount the door, it's pretty stunning just how low that average number could go when Boston's newest teenager arrives.

Green was not supposed to drop this far. Danny Ainge and his draftniks truly believed he would go in the top six, with Portland most likely snagging him in the No. 6 slot. When the Trail Blazers opted for another high school prospect, Martell Webster, the Celtics started thinking there just might be a chance the kid could slip into their lap.

''We started doing a little research and realized, 'This guy might not have a home,' " said Ainge. ''He can shoot, and he can fly. On the downside, he's 19 and he's not ready to win in the NBA yet."

A less reserved Ainge acknowledged after he left the podium he was ecstatic with what transpired. He said his team has some big decisions to make regarding key personnel (read: Paul Pierce, Walker), but, he figures, now he has more ammunition than ever to address those issues.

''All of a sudden we've got Paul [Pierce] and Al [Jefferson] and Delonte [West] and Gerald Green," Ainge gushed. ''These are guys that anyone in the league would kill to have."

Then why did Green fall so far? Was it because he resisted showing up for workouts against other draft prospects? Should we buy Ainge's explanation that teams picking before the Celtics were addressing needs rather than going for the best available player?

''Why did he slide? I could care less," said coach Doc Rivers, who then compared Green with a young Tracy McGrady.

Whoa. Easy, Doc. Green, who originally committed to Oklahoma State, still needs to mature physically and mentally. He is not ready to play at this level -- yet. We can't help but be mildly concerned about his nickname, which is ''G Money," (stay away from the card games on the plane, kid) and you wish that his 6-foot-8-inch frame had a little more than 200 pounds on it.

Even so, you've got to love this pick. What Ainge, in essence, did was take a chance on grabbing a player who could be a bonafide star instead of playing it safe and settling for a seasoned college player (Hakim Warrick?) who wouldn't be able to earn much playing time next year anyhow. Danny may need to extend his five-year plan to seven years now, but the bottom line is he's snagged another player that offers unlimited promise -- and entertainment value. Gerald Green loves to run and jump, and that fits with Doc's vision of up-tempo basketball.

Green was born in Houston, played at Dobie High, then transferred to Gulf Shores Academy and repeated his junior season there, where he averaged 28.8 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks. He was named MVP of the Reebok ABCD All-Star camp in the summer of 2004 and dropped 24 points on the other high school pro wannabes in the McDonald's High School All-America game. The numbers are gaudy, but all they mean is that Green is better than the other high school kids.

Ainge is convinced Green is special, and said frantic phone calls from the kid's original suitor, the Trail Blazers, as well as his hometown Houston Rockets, confirmed that.

''Sometimes you say, 'Dang, is there something wrong?' " Ainge said. ''And then you find out the team that coveted him from the beginning, Portland, is calling and offering some of their picks. Houston, where he lived, they started calling and tried to get him. These are the people that knew him best throughout this whole evaluation process."

Asked what struck him most about his newest youngster, Ainge flatly declared, ''He's the best athlete in the draft."

Athletes are good, yet there are holes to be filled with this suddenly fluid roster. The Celtics must -- repeat must -- bring in one, if not two, solid veterans who can show the kiddie corps the way. Sooner or later, the Celtics must sing a different tune than Forever Young.

''That's huge," Rivers acknowledged last night. ''It's vital we bring in the right veterans."

Green, in a brief interview on ESPN last night, said he would be taking college classes when he comes to Boston, and if he didn't, his mother would ''break my head or something."\

''I kind of thought I'd get picked earlier, but it's OK," Green said.

You can be sure Al and Delonte and Tony Allen have already picked out an apartment for their new teammate in Waltham, where all the young Celtics fellas hang out. Boston's Brat Pack believe they are the future of this franchise, and they've just added some serious firepower to that theory.

How long before Gerald Green makes his mark? Maybe he'll be like Jefferson and contribute right away. Maybe he'll have to be patient toiling behind a young, but more seasoned group of wing players.

Either way, the kid sounds like he's worth the wait.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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