Celtics go with a point guard

Texas’s Bradley to back up Rondo

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 25, 2010

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Doc Rivers had spent the past week recovering from the Celtics’ Game 7 Finals loss, but last night his wit was still there.

The Celtics had just made their first pick in the NBA draft, taking Texas point guard Avery Bradley 19th overall, and Rivers, in his first public appearance in a week, sifted through the sea of season ticket-holders at Legends inside TD Garden and took to a podium in the corner.

“I guess you guys know who we picked,’’ he said.

Then, turning coy, he joked. “Well, that’s all you need to know right? Thank you.’’

The questions about Rivers’s future as coach lingered as the Celtics took their first step in what will be a long and critical offseason. After six seasons on the bench, Rivers has yet to decide whether he will return for the final year of his contract.

He spent the days following the Finals decompressing, but was a part of the predraft process talking to Celtics president Danny Ainge and spending the past few days in Waltham, researching possible selections.

He didn’t want to be a large part of the draft process, he acknowledged, but he added, “I’m still an employee. Danny wanted me to be here.’’

It’s par for the course for Ainge to spend the season poring over footage from college games. Ainge went to workouts during the Finals, and has worked around the clock since the season ended. The first tape he showed Rivers was of Bradley.

Rivers said, “When we finished, he said, ‘I don’t think he’s going to be there [at No. 19.] Someone’s going to take him in front of us.’ Fortunately, there were a couple of trades made right in front of us that really helped us.’’

Bradley was at a restaurant in downtown Tacoma, Wash., with his family when his hoop dreams came true. He decided to leave Texas after just one season, having spent a year at Bellarmine Prep prior to that. The Celtics were Bradley’s first workout. He understood full well that defense was his ticket into the league.

“I just think it was a God-given gift,’’ Bradley said. “I’ve been the best defender on ever team I’ve played on since first grade. I feel like you can always have an off offensive game, but my whole thing is I’ll never have an off defensive game.’’

Bradley was aware of Rivers’s status.

“Whatever happens, happens,’’ he said. “I would love for him to be there so I could be able to play for a coach like him, but if he’s not there, we’re just going to have to move on.’’

Ainge said he had been following Bradley for the past year, and was surprised that he was still available so late.

“He was one of the top high school players in the country,’’ Ainge said. “I just thought he was the best player available. There was some hope that he would be there probably today for the first time. For the last month or so I did not think he was going to be there. You never know what’s going to happen at the last minute. He’s been hurt for a couple weeks, he sprained his ankle pretty good in a workout and that could have had an impact. I don’t know.’’

Ainge said Bradley will likely miss the start of summer league, which opens July 5 in Orlando, because of the ankle sprain. Looking at the larger picture, Ainge sounded like he didn’t expect Bradley to dive in and contribute right away.

“He’s a kid that’s 19 and we’re not counting on him to play a major role on our team,’’ Ainge said. “We’ll see how things go, we don’t want to rush him or put too much expectations on him. We’ll just see how he develops.’’

The Celtics took Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody with the 52d overall pick, hoping for another second-round find like Glen Davis, Leon Powe, and Ryan Gomes.

“He was a dominant Big East player for the last few years,’’ Ainge said. “Luke is one of those guys kind of like a Gomes or a Leon Powe, where if they’re still available are proven players that everybody discards because they might have a little flaw. But time will tell.

The intention will be to play Bradley behind Rajon Rondo, now the team’s cornerstone after a breakout season. Rondo has never had a true point guard behind him.

“He could be a starter one day in this league,’’ Rivers said of Bradley. “It’s tough to do that when Rondo’s the starter in front of you, but he has a huge upside.’’

The buzz all day was that the Celtics would trade their first pick. There were two players the Celtics were certain they wanted at 19.

“If we didn’t get either of those two, we were probably going to move the pick,’’ Rivers said.

Ainge said he and Rivers talked throughout the draft process, but avoided the weighty decisions ahead. Having him around, though, was therapeutic.

“I think last night was the first night Doc got any sleep and I think it’s just hard,’’ Ainge said. “As far as I’m concerned Doc is still a part of what we’re doing. We’re great friends and regardless of what we do in the future he was a great help.’’

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