On basketball

Promising future starts now

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 29, 2012
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The Celtics didn’t pull any surprises Thursday night, and given the wealth of talent in the NBA draft, they didn’t have to.

The additions of Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Fab Melo of Syracuse was about as good as it could get for the Celtics at picks Nos. 21 and 22. Sullinger is the biggest reward from the Kendrick Perkins trade.

And now the Celtics can move forward with two players who will see considerable playing time next year.

According to NBA sources, the concerns about the 6-foot-9-inch Sullinger’s back are minor, and the Celtics will find out more when their doctors examine him in the coming days. Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Sullinger has a “disk’’ issue but expects him to play in the Orlando Summer League beginning July 9.

While he had similar girth to Glen Davis in college, Sullinger has a better all-around game. He has a good midrange jumper and can shoot the ball from 20 feet. He effectivelty uses his size to post up defenders, which is exactly what the Celtics need.

While the Celtics could have drafted better athletes, there may not have been a more skilled post player available than Sullinger.

“The fact that Jared Sullinger fell to us is just fortunate,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “Last year he would have been a top-five pick, all year he was a top-10 pick. The fact that he kept falling to us gives us a rebounder, high IQ player, great passer, and a very good shooter from the outside. Gives us some physical force.

“We feel pretty good about [his back] or we wouldn’t’ have taken him. Obviously we have to watch it and next year he gets the right treatment all the time. I played 13 years with a bad back and I was OK. I think he will be, too. All the doctors gave clearance. That’s fine by us. When you don’t get red flagged you’re pretty much safe.”

As for Melo, the resume is brief. He played 63 college games before being suspended for academic reasons.

The Brazilian is not a natural basketball player, having grown up playing soccer, but his potential and upside were too enticing for the Celtics to pass up.

They haven’t had an athletic 7-footer in years and while it would be inconceivable to believe he will be Kevin Garnett’s primary backup next season, Rivers and defensive coach Mike Longabardi can tutor him into being a premium defender.

The Celtics were able to get a player in Sullinger whom they can rely on next season and in Melo for the next decade. Obviously, Melo’s desire and work ethic will have to improve, but a year with Garnett’s expletives ringing in his eardrums should have a positive effect.

“I don’t know what you can project.’’ said Rivers. “Obviously he has size. We have to teach him the Celtic way, we have to teach him how to work and understanding how to play as a winner.

“I love size and potential and he has both of those things. For us to get a 7-footer at that pick is a good pick for us.’’

While there will be complaints that Perry Jones III should have been Boston’s second pick, the Celtics desperately needed a defensive presence in the middle. That is coveted in the NBA and the free agent market isn’t dripping with talented big men.

Sullinger and Melo may not completely answer the Celtics’ desire to get young, but with Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore, and Thursday night’s second-round pick, Kris Joseph, they are beginning to build a core who will be prepared to carry on after the Big Three Era.

Assistant general manager Ryan McDonough said the team tried to move up to take a higher touted prospect and sacrifice the two drafts picks for one, but it may have been the been best for the Celtics to stand pat.

“We had these guys ranked as lottery talents,’’ said McDonough.

The message is clear, the Celtics are re-loading. They will give Sullinger and Melo time to develop and hope they can contribute at some point this season.

“Sometimes the rookies turn out great, sometimes they struggle,’’ said Ainge. “Time will tell. It’s up to them. They will get an opportunity. I’m very optimistic for these three guys.’’

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