By Sean Grande
Special to Celtics.com
May 15, 2007
"That can't be right."
"How can that be?"
"That's the most depressing news I've heard in months."
Those, quite simply, are the top four responses I've gotten the last few months, the past few weeks and now, the past few days in passing on the news. Not of Paris Hilton's incarceration or Christopher Motlisanti's sudden demise, but rather the cold, hard reality that the most likely statistical result of the impending draft lottery is that the Celtics will end up with...wait for it...the number four pick.
Although, yeah, come to think of it, the Paris Hilton news pretty much got the same reaction. And let's face it, her video is probably the only thing downloaded more in Celtics nation these days than the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant highlights on YouTube.
For months now, you've been sweating out May 22, burying your head from the reality of the numbers and trying to will the Celtics into one of those top two spots. (Although, admit it, some dark part of you wants to see Tommy's reaction if the C's don't get one of the top two picks, right? You know, arms folded, leaning back in his chair to the side, a smirk with which only Tommy can communicate without words that "they've screwed us again.")
Since opening night, even before, we've heard on websites and talk radio that Oden and Durant will be the cornerstones of future NBA championship teams, and that anything less than a top two pick is a fate worse than Alec Baldwin leaving you a voice mail, either of which would get played over and over again for years. But that notion, with apologies to the Senator from Illinois, is the audacity of hype.
I'm not here to play that lower-your-expectations game should the ping-pong balls bounce wrong on the 22nd, or even for that matter, if they bounce right. But The View will go on without Rosie, and there will be life in Celtics Nation without a top two pick.
1997 was cut and it was dried. Why? Because Tim Duncan was not only The Man, he already was a man. He already was Tim Duncan, a proven four-year college player, ready to contribute immediately at a very high NBA level.
So let's start with the biggest myth out there...Oden and Durant are the two most NBA-ready players in the draft. The two most likely to come in, contribute and make a team better in 2007-2008.
Sorry, no sale.
Top ten? Maybe...even probably. Top two, not a chance.
NBA-ready, you ask?
Let me introduce you to Jeff Green. A 6'8" junior swingman from the Georgetown team that defended its way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four. An NBA body on the type of player who often slips trough the cracks, because the system he functions in limits his individual skills, rather than promotes them.
How about Corey Brewer? You know Al Horford and Joakim Noah, his Gator back-to-back title teammates. But do you also know this 6'8 "three" will probably be the first of his teammates to get drafted? Tell me he wasn't the best player on March's best team.
You want the biggest dark horse pick of all to be 2008's NBA Rookie of the Year? His name is Al Thornton, and if you love the heart-on-your-sleeve, bull-in-a-china-shop, self-made effort guys, this is your man. His Florida State team this year was not that good, but he was, and often.
And then there are the other two upside prospects. Brandan Wright, the 6'10 drink-of-water phenom Freshman from North Carolina, and my personal favorite, my binky, if you will in 2007, Yi Jianlian. A seven-foot teenager, he's the best athlete I've seen in the draft, who's already been playing professionally in China for years against other post players who are on salary, not scholarship.
Not bad for what I remind you is the "worst-case" scenario.
And that doesn't even broach the subject of the 32nd pick in the draft, which the Celtics own and have an excellent chance of benefiting from in one of the deepest drafts in years. There are second-rounders who will play this year and make an impact, and the C's own their second choice in that round, no ping-pong balls required. Did you see Aaron Affalo play for UCLA this year? What about Gabe Pruitt across town at USC? Catch any of Sean Williams' shot-block parties at Boston College early this winter? Remember a couple of years ago, when Brazillian sensation Tiago Splitter looked like a lottery lock? Well, at least one, and maybe all four of those guys could slip to the Celtics at Number 32.
Now, lest you think I've lost the forest for the all the trees that could be available for the C's, or too contrarian when it comes to the media and its innate ability to inflate perception over reality, let's take a moment of Zen here to call it like it is. Of course Greg Oden will be the Number One pick, and of course Kevin Durant will be Number Two. I say it the same way I said both will be in the draft, when the worry warts of Celtics Nation, heck all of NBA Nation, were running around playing Chicken Little when the inevitable stories came out in March that both were "considering staying in school."
Sorry, not my first barbeque.
Look, someone has to go on the cover of the swimsuit issue, and of course that's Beyonce. But that doesn't mean the rest of the issue isn't worth thumbing through. Oden's one, Durant is two. But there is no cliff off which the rest the prospects drop, just as there isn't one off which fans of the "other" lottery teams should consider jumping on May 23rd.
And in these final few days before the draft lottery we've been anticipating for months, it seems like a healthy reminder.
It's called a lottery for a reason. No promises, no guarantees, no refunds.
A return to the playoffs for the Celtics in 2008 will come from a healthy Paul Pierce, and another stride toward dominance from Al Jefferson. A Wally Szczerbiak from two years ago, a Tony Allen from last year and a Gerald Green from two years from now would help, too.
And that lottery ticket, no matter what number it cashes in, only sweetens the pot.
Sean Grande is the play-by-play announcer for Celtics radio broadcasts. Opinions expressed herein are those solely of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Boston Celtics.