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Celtics order double shot of Boilermakers

They get Johnson, grab Moore later

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 24, 2011

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The Celtics went into last night’s NBA Draft considering all their options. As the picks went by, they were still trying to finagle deals.

“We tried to do a lot of things, honestly,’’ said coach Doc Rivers.

Even though they had spent weeks downplaying the value of the 25th overall pick, they had three players in mind. One was Boston College combo guard Reggie Jackson. Another was Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson. The last was Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton.

Teams learn of picks about five minutes before commissioner David Stern goes to the podium. So the Celtics were informed well ahead of time that Oklahoma City, selecting 24th, was taking Jackson off the board.

But they had deals cooking. The Nets had called, saying they were interested in moving if the Celtics were interested in moving down to No. 27. They’d also throw in their 2014 second-round pick.

The deal seemed fine for the Celtics. They just needed to make sure one of the players they had targeted would still be available. The Nets would use the 25th pick on Providence scorer MarShon Brooks.

The Celtics were banking on the Mavericks taking Hamilton at No. 26, which they did.

“You never know, there’s always a bit of a gamble,’’ Ainge said. “But our intelligence told us what was going on.’’

With that, the Celtics were clear to take Johnson, adding a 6-foot-10-inch, 220-pound big man with bounce and athleticism, someone who can run the floor, shoot, and swat shots into the seats. Johnson declared for the 2010 draft, but pulled out after projecting to be a second-round pick. The payoff came in a consensus All-America nod along with Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors after averaging 20.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a senior.

With the 55th pick, the Celtics took Johnson’s teammate, E’Twaun Moore, a 6-4 shooting guard who also chose to return for his senior season.

“No connection,’’ Ainge said of drafting two Purdue players. “Just independently, they were the best guys on the board for us.’’

From their first draft workout, when they brought in four power forwards, the Celtics seemed to be targeting big men. The Celtics had plenty of room to fill in their frontcourt with Shaquille O’Neal retiring, Nenad Krstic leaving for Russia, and Glen Davis dangling in free agency. Johnson visited Waltham for a workout.

His skill set fills the team’s desire to get younger and more athletic after losing to the Miami Heat in five games in the second round of the playoffs. Johnson can play power forward and center, and Ainge was encouraged by his versatility.

“I think he’s a both-end-of-the-court player,’’ Ainge said. “He can shoot. He can rebound. He can block shots. He’s got some good energy. He’s got some good length. I think he’s got a lot of parts we need.’’

Johnson’s thin frame isn’t an issue for Rivers or Ainge.

“I’ll just have him eat dinners with me,’’ Rivers joked. “I don’t know if he needs to put on weight, but he needs to get stronger, and that includes weight. I’m not that concerned by that right now.’’

Leading up to draft night, the Celtics were lowering expectations, repeating the refrain that late-round picks rarely crack NBA rotations, especially on a team with championship hopes. Dealing the pick was a clear consideration.

“It never ends, there’s calls coming in all the time to move up, to move in, to move out, so we’re constantly juggling all the opportunities that come before us,’’ Ainge said.

The Celtics continued to accumulate future picks, adding New Jersey’s second-rounder in 2014 to the Clippers’ first-round pick in 2012 (which they acquired when they dealt Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City) and Sacramento’s second-round pick in 2017.

“This year we went in with the idea that if a good opportunity came to move out of the draft, depending on who’s available in the draft, [we’d take it],’’ Ainge said. “But when JaJuan was available, we really wanted to stay. He was a guy we had rated pretty high and we had targeted from the beginning.’’

The hope was to keep adding picks for next year.

“Everyone’s projecting next year’s draft to be a tremendous draft,’’ Rivers said. “We’re still working to get more picks there. [Johnson] was one of the guys we had on the board, if he was around we want that guy.’’

How the Celtics will work out their two picks is up in the air with the league’s players and owners still trying to reach a new collective bargaining agreement and avoid a lockout next week.

The league canceled its Las Vegas Summer League, and it’s unlikely the Orlando Summer League will be held.

Both Johnson and Moore will be in Waltham Monday. Ainge plans on having them work out with coaches and may bring in some undrafted free agents even though he can’t sign them.

“We’re bored,’’ Rivers said. “We need to do something.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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