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Lottery slip

Luckless Celtics tumble into fifth drafting position

WALTHAM -- OK, here's the good news. The Celtics are only going to have to face Greg Oden and Kevin Durant twice a year.

That qualifies as the sliver of a silver lining in last night's otherwise disastrous results from Secaucus. After salivating for months over the prospect of Oden or Durant wearing Celtic green for seasons to come, Danny Ainge & Co. were dealt a hammer blow by the Ping-Pong balls. The Celtics will end picking up fifth -- the worst-case scenario -- in next month's draft.

Will they get a good player? They should. Will they get a potential All-Star? They could. That will be the party line until June 28. The consensus is that this is a deep draft and there should be a pretty good guy available when the Celtics pick.

But the instant gratification and attendant buzz generated by an Oden or a Durant will now be confined to the Pacific Northwest. (Gee, you think the NBA is happy about that?) Oden in all likelihood will play in Portland next year, as the Trail Blazers, with a 5.3 percent chance, won the whole thing. Durant in all likelihood will play in Seattle, or wherever the Sonics choose to relocate. The Hawks got the third pick, which they get to keep instead of passing on to Phoenix. Atlanta also got the 11th pick from Indiana from the Al Harrington trade. Theoretically, the Hawks could improve. But remember, it's Atlanta.

As he walked into the lottery's conference room to represent the Pacers, Larry Bird quipped, "[The Celtics] better get 1 or 2."

Asked for his reaction when the Celtics' card came up in the fifth position, Ainge smiled and said, "Dang it!" That's about as profane as he gets. After a short pause, coach Doc Rivers chimed in, "He's Mormon. I said something else." (You get the feeling that somewhere Rick Pitino is chuckling?)

Portland and Seattle, combined, had less of a chance at the No. 1 pick (14.1) than the Celtics (19.9). And Memphis, which had the best odds at getting the first pick (25 percent), dropped to No. 4. Thus, the three losingest teams over the course of the season also were the three losingest teams on Lottery Night, dropping the maximum three slots. The third loser was Milwaukee, which basically tanked the final third of the season and also fell three slots. Not one of the top three teams going into the lottery came out of it with a top three pick.

The Celtics had close to a 39 percent chance of getting the first or second pick. But like 10 years ago, when they had a 36 percent chance at Tim Duncan, the numbers came out all wrong. Ainge said he didn't think the lottery needed to be changed and then said, "We don't plan on being back."

The Celtics, in anticipation of getting the first or second pick, had office staff standing by to field requests for season tickets. Maybe they should hire Chinese-speaking operators, because talented big man Yi Jianlian, whom Ainge saw twice in the flesh in China, is one of the many players who now will be on the Celtics' watch list. Others could be Al Thornton of Florida State (whom they could trade down to get) or one of two Florida players, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah.

"I've said all along that this is more than just a two-player draft," Ainge said. "We're going to get a real good player. We're going to get a player who has a chance to be an All-Star."

All of that could well come to pass; it just won't be either of the You Know Whos. Oden is a certifiable difference-maker who would have given the defense-challenged Celtics exactly what they needed. The electric Durant is drawing comparisons to Kevin Garnett, and the Sonics could be one fun team to watch next year with Ray Allen, Durant, and (assuming he re-signs) Rashard Lewis lighting it up.

Slots 14 through 7 of the lottery went according to Hoyle. The first sign of trouble for the Celtics came when Milwaukee's card was pulled out of the sixth position. People were still trying to figure out what that meant when NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver drew the Celtics logo out of the No. 5 envelope.

"I was disappointed, like everyone was," Rivers said. "It didn't work out the way we hoped it would. I think we were all surprised. That was not where you wanted to see the Celtics name."

Ainge said he was open to trading the pick for a proven veteran, but not for just any veteran. He said the same thing last year -- and traded the pick to Portland in the deal for Sebastian Telfair. Rivers indicated that the team would go for talent rather than draft for position or need. "We're going to take the best player on the board," he said.

Rivers admitted that he had been fantasizing about coaching Oden for a while. But he also said, "I'm going to continue to fantasize."

He and everyone else in Boston.

Peter May can be reached at P_May@globe.com.

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