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Celtics find out draft slot tonight

Danny Ainge says trading the Celtics' slot for a veteran player is an option, but it would be unlikely if the pick is No. 1 or 2. Danny Ainge says trading the Celtics' slot for a veteran player is an option, but it would be unlikely if the pick is No. 1 or 2. (DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF)
By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / May 22, 2007
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Reached between AAU games over the weekend, Danny Ainge sounded like a man already suffering from draft fatigue. Watching his sons play basketball -- not scouting the 2010 NBA draft class -- Ainge still felt the anticipation building for tonight's NBA draft lottery in Secaucus, N.J. He has heard endless debates about whether Greg Oden or Kevin Durant would be a better No. 1 pick, he has seen the odds repeatedly dissected, and he has traveled the world looking at top prospects in recent months.

Tonight Ainge will learn whether his Celtics, who had the second-worst record in the NBA this season, can select Oden or Durant with one of the first two picks. If not, he will move down his list to names such as 6-foot-9-inch North Carolina forward Brandan Wright, 6-10 Florida forward/center Al Horford, 6-11 Florida forward/center Joakim Noah, 6-11 Chinese center Yi Jianlian, 6-9 Florida forward Corey Brewer, and 7-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert.

The Celtics can drop no lower than the No. 5 spot, virtually guaranteeing them a future impact player from a deep draft class, though the prospect to be selected later may not be the hottest name right now.

"We're going to get a good player," said Ainge. "There are a lot of good players in this draft, a lot of 19- and 20-year-olds we're projecting [to be impact players].

"Not many people thought Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce would be impact players when they were drafted."

NBA commissioner David Stern said recently, "I think it would be nice for the Celtics to improve themselves. I think it would be good for the team, but I can look at 30 teams and wind up saying the same thing. I do know there are players that are going to go at the 10th position this year, I am reliably informed, that are going to be impact players."

If Ainge and Stern sound like men spouting the company line and tempering expectations in the process, they have good reason to do so. While the Celtics would land the first or second pick in a perfect world, they have the best chance of receiving the No. 4 selection (31.9 percent). Consider these additional facts: In the 17 years since the NBA switched to a weighted lottery, the team with the worst or second-worst record received the top pick only 29 percent of the time; 53 percent of the time, teams in positions 3 through 5 have gotten the top pick.

If the Celtics don't leave Secaucus with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, talk will turn from Oden and Durant to trade scenarios. While the draft class appears to be stocked with talent, it may make more sense for the Celtics to part with a pick that translates into Wright, Horford, or Yi; they already have more than enough young players. Adding a high-caliber veteran could be a better move at this juncture. Jermaine O'Neal or Kevin Garnett, anyone?

"I don't pay any attention to the odds and history," said Ainge. "I let everybody else do that. I'm just preparing for whatever happens, so we can make the best choice we can.

"I would say there's more of a chance of trading [the pick] if it's not No. 1 or No. 2. It would be more difficult to part with if it's 1 or 2. But I'd still say it's more likely we don't trade it even if it's not 1 or 2. "

While Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck will be sequestered in a back room where NBA officials conduct the actual lottery, Tommy Heinsohn will be the face of the franchise on the live broadcast. Heinsohn, a New Jersey native, joked about gathering his friends from the area to tilt the room where the drawing takes place to make sure the Ping-Pong balls fall in the Celtics' favor.

Turning serious, the Hall of Famer preferred to focus on what the Celtics have and not what they might miss out on.

"If Al Jefferson was coming out today, he'd be the No. 1 pick," said Heinsohn. "So, we got the No. 1 pick a couple years ago with foresight."

Those with Boston loyalties could have used a little of that foresight in the weeks leading up to the lottery. Tonight, the long wait will end and the Celtics may know just how bright their future looks.

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

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