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Talent show could give way to sideshow

Hasheem Thabeet is grateful for a chance. Hasheem Thabeet is grateful for a chance.
By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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Tonight’s NBA draft doesn’t have the sexiness of a LeBron James-type arrival, and you’ll probably have to stay up real late to see the Celtics pick someone who may never play in TD Banknorth Garden, or even the D-League. But although this draft is deemed weak by many insiders, the annual event in New York City could prove to be one of the most entertaining and surprising drafts ever.

Want proof? Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin is excited about joining the eternally struggling Clippers.

“I’m not worried about anything that’s happened in the past,’’ said Griffin yesterday in New York. “I wasn’t a part of that. A lot of the guys that are there now weren’t a part of it. We’re only looking forward to the future.’’

An NBA source said Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet is expected to be taken by Memphis second overall. The 7-foot-3-inch, 265-pound shot-blocking machine, who started playing basketball only six years ago in his native Tanzania, could become the next big defensive star. Whether Thabeet has the personality or the finger wag of Dikembe Mutombo remains to be seen. Tanzanians are expecting to celebrate around 2 a.m. tomorrow when their homeboy gets selected.

“I don’t know if I’m going to go to sleep, I’m so excited,’’ Thabeet said. “My whole family is here, everybody is so excited. I don’t even know what to say about it - again, it’s just a great opportunity. A lot of people would do whatever they can to get to the position I’m at right now and to be in this position is a blessing and I’m just happy and being grateful to be in this position. I always go back and thank all the people who helped me and supported me to get to this position right now.’’

After No. 2, the draft becomes anyone’s guess. Spanish guard Ricky Rubio, Arizona State guard-forward James Harden, Memphis combo guard Tyreke Evans, Davidson combo guard Stephen Curry, and Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn are expected to be the next players off the board, but in what order? And if you thought picking the top 10 is tough, try the rest of the first round.

General managers and scouts have been put to the test. “It’s not easy,’’ said one GM. “There isn’t a lot of separation for a lot of these players. The top of the draft isn’t for the faint of heart.’’

Said one Eastern Conference executive: “I’m not looking forward to it.’’

Thabeet isn’t the only New England tie to the draft, but you’re going to have to stay up awhile to see whether Boston College guard Tyrese Rice, Connecticut forward Jeff Adrien (Brookline) and guard A.J. Price, and Massachusetts forward Tony Gaffney (Berkley) get drafted.

A Western Conference scout said Adrien and Rice have a chance to be taken late in the second round. An Eastern Conference scout said Price could be selected between 40-60, and Gaffney wasn’t even on his team’s draft board.

Celtics fans will have to follow the draft to near fruition to witness pick No. 58, the team’s only scheduled selection. Celtics president Danny Ainge acknowledged via text message last night that he doesn’t expect to trade for any picks or players. Regarding pick No. 58, said Ainge, “There’s probably a hundred players we’ve looked at since the season ended.’’

Ainge has found some late-draft gems in the past. He took forward-center Leon Powe 49th overall in 2006 and Providence forward Ryan Gomes, now with the Timberwolves, 50th overall in 2005.

Adding to the intrigue of this draft could be potential trades. Several notable players have been rumored to be moving, including New Jersey forward Vince Carter, Cleveland forward-center Ben Wallace, New York forward David Lee, Orlando guard Rafer Alston, Phoenix forward Amare’ Stoudemire, Phoenix center Shaquille O’Neal, and Indiana guard T.J. Ford, as well as Clippers big men Marcus Camby, Zach Randolph, and Chris Kaman. The Bucks already traded forward Richard Jefferson to San Antonio Tuesday, and a league source is saying the Warriors have agreed to ship guard Jamal Crawford to Atlanta for guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton. Dallas and Portland swapped the 22d and 24th picks yesterday, and Minnesota finalized its deal with Washington for the No. 5 pick.

Tonight’s draft won’t be remembered as the beginning of several Hall of Fame careers. Ainge projected it as one of the worst in history. But it will be remembered for resembling a freak show at the county fair. Expect the unexpected. It should be fun.

“A guy that might be [expected to be] drafted 12th may go third,’’ a GM said. “You got to do the best you can. You draft the draft.’’

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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