Celtics slide to No. 5 in worst-possible scenario
After suffering through another miserable season, the Celtics are disappointed to get the No. 5 pick.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- The body language of Boston Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck should have tipped them off.
Watching the draft lottery on television from their practice facility in Waltham, the Celtics brass could see Grousbeck in the viewing room in Secaucus, N.J., but they couldn't talk to him since cell phones had been banned from the area. Before the results of the lottery were announced but after the ping pong balls had done their work, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and others noticed that Grousbeck didn't look so hot, but they still held out hope.
So Ainge, the director of basketball operations, coach Rivers and other members of the Celtics family figured they still had a chance at the top pick, and at worst the second selection. The odds were in their favor.
General manager Chris Wallace charted the picks as they were being unveiled to sighs, exhales and anxious breaths. The selections were ticked off ... from the Clippers at 14 to the Hornets at 13, the Sixers at 12 and Indiana at 11. Sacramento got No. 10 and Chicago the ninth pick. Wallace said it all was going according to form. The Bobcats going No. 8 and Minnesota at No. 7 was still OK. But there was an obvious tension when Milwaukee popped up at No. 6 because that meant that one of the top teams was going to slide.
And then it came, the Celtics at No. 5. The air was gone in the room, zapped right out. There was no cursing, just a voice that said, "Doggone it!"
Memphis got No. 4 in another stunner before a commercial break on the ESPN telecast. The room began to empty even before the top three picks were announced in order.
"I was disappointed that it was the worst possible scenario," Ainge said of sliding down to No. 5. "I had allowed myself to get high hopes for a while. I feel right now like I'm in the visitor's locker room and you're interviewing the losing coach. But we'll regroup."
Rivers summed up the mood of the room.
"I'm disappointed like everyone else since I looked at the odds and thought we would be one, two or three,'' Rivers said. "I was surprised when that envelope popped up and saw the Celtics' name. That's not when we wanted to see it.''
What they likely won't see in green is Oden or Durant.
So Ainge and Rivers tried to rally behind the idea of a pool of players that should include China's Yi Jianlian, Florida's Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, Florida State's Al Thornton and North Carolina's Brandan Wright.
The Celtics have never had a No. 1 pick. Ten years ago they thought they would get the top selection since they had the best odds but ended up with No. 3 and No. 6. The No. 1 pick ultimately went to San Antonio, who got Tim Duncan. The thinking on Tuesday was that the Celtics were in a similar position and could get Ohio State's Greg Oden, or at the very least Texas' Kevin Durant. But both will be heading to the Northwest.
Ainge, ever the optimist, had said earlier in the day that he firmly believed there was a big-time player in the 3-7 range. Throughout the night there was talk that there could be as many as five or six future NBA All-Stars in this draft.
And Ainge and Rivers are convinced that the Celtics aren't that far away from being a playoff team after 10 players missed a combined 311 games due to injuries last season.
"I think we have a good nucleus already and the player we draft is going to be in the mix in our rotation,'' Ainge said. "He's going to help us. I think we're a playoff team right now.''
"We don't plan on ever being back in the lottery,'' Ainge said. "I really believe that the guy we get at No. 5 is going to be good. That's the highest we've picked in a long time.''
So, the Oden-Bill Russell comparisons will continue but not in a Celtics' uniform. He won't be coming East. The C's might go for another splash, possibly like the Red Sox did in landing Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka.
And if that's the case then Boston may get a buzz and ultimately, Ainge hopes, one of the better players in the draft.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.