Celtics have the last word

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / June 26, 2008

The last pick in the first round of the NBA draft doesn't sound sexy. He doesn't merit a draft party or a new hot jersey available in the team store. Very few recall that the 76ers selected Finland's Petteri Koponen with the last pick of the first round in 2007.

But in the back of every NBA general manager's mind is the fact that occasionally teams hit the jackpot late in the first round. Spurs two-time All-Star guard Tony Parker was the 28th pick of the 2001 draft. Mavericks forward Josh Howard, a 2007 All-Star, was the 29th pick five years ago. Knicks forward David Lee was the last pick of the first round in 2005.

Assuming they don't trade the pick, the Celtics are hoping to get a surprise talent with the 30th selection in the first round tonight. Boston also has the 60th and final pick. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said his staff has narrowed its list to 23 prospects categorized by position and readiness to play in the league.

"It always is a crapshoot," Ainge said. "When you're drafting 30, the success rate of that pick is that less than 5 percent end up being a [consistent] starter in the NBA.

"Tony Parker was a great draft pick. Josh Howard was a great draft pick. Like anybody, you make good or bad ones."

The Celtics worked out about 50 players at their training facility in Waltham and in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft. Boston also has scouted numerous other players at predraft camps in Orlando, Fla., Portsmouth, Va., and Treviso, Italy.

Ainge believes there could be nearly as much value with the 30th selection as there is with the 20th. Two other NBA executives picking late in the first round believe there will be talent available to them as well.

The Pistons' Joe Dumars, who selects 29th, said via text message, "Drafting toward the end of the first round takes much more work than drafting at the top of the draft. But you definitely can find good players."

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, whose team has the 28th pick, said, "There are players there. If you go back and look at the draft, there are players you wish you had that were selected in the late first and second."

One team that has had success drafting late in the first round in recent years is San Antonio. In addition to Parker, the Spurs have selected John Salmons (26th, 2002), Leandro Barbosa (28th, 2003), and Beno Udrih (28th, 2004) late in Round 1. San Antonio is scheduled to pick 26th tonight.

"I don't think we've gotten it wrong more than we got it right," said Spurs general manager R.C. Buford. "What you have to be comfortable with is understand what works and doesn't work and try to create value with the pick. We've traded the pick as often as we've taken it to create value somewhere else."

Ainge said he is also open to trading No. 30, but added that it's doubtful Boston would attempt to move up because "the price is beyond our reach." The Nuggets traded their first-round pick (20th overall) to the Bobcats yesterday for a future first-rounder, while the Hornets dealt the 27th selection to the Trail Blazers for cash considerations.

"I always have to prepare to keep it," Ainge said. "The moves happen as the draft is going on. You go into the draft with possibilities and scenarios. You have to prepare to use that pick. But you have to be prepared for the 15th and 20th pick if something comes up."

The 30th overall pick is guaranteed to make $797,600 next season and $857,400 in 2009-10, with team options for two more seasons. The Celtics already are projected to have a hefty payroll of around $72 million next season, not including free agent signings.

When asked if there were any financial concerns regarding the 30th selection, Ainge said, "Financial concerns? We don't run it that way. At the same time we balance roster spot and payroll."

While the first pick in the second round makes a lot less ($442,114 next season) than the last selection of the first, there is a benefit for the latter. Buford pointed out that first-rounders can be under contract for four seasons, and restricted free agents after that time. Second-rounders can be unrestricted free agents in two years. Such was the case with Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer, who left their original teams for big money when their deals were up.

"I don't think it's a tough decision from a financial standpoint," Buford said. "I think it's tougher to trade it. Value in the draft at a rookie scale contract level is significant. If you have players on your roster at a rookie scale contract, that's a great value."

Said Wallace, "Obviously there's a difference in the salary structure of the two picks. But I look at it as the opportunity. The amount of money we're paying the players back at the end of the [first round] is basically somewhat close to the salary structure for veteran minimum players."

The Celtics also may consider sending the 30th selection to play overseas for more seasoning. Ainge said there are some prospects he would only draft if they agreed to go overseas first. Tiago Splitter, who was drafted by the Spurs with the 28th overall selection last year, is expected to stay in Spain again next season.

"There are players in the draft that you could do that with," Ainge said. "There are American players where you can find them a job overseas. That's a possibility and a discussion we're having with the deep roster we have."

Colorado center David Harrison recalled sitting in a hotel suite with about 50 family members and friends in his hometown of Nashville on draft night four years ago with expectations of being a top-20 pick. The 7-footer was disappointed when he was the final pick of the first round (29th overall) by Indiana. But looking back now, he is appreciative.

"I was supposed to go higher," Harrison said. "Way higher. But it's a blessing that you got picked."

Julian Benbow of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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