Celts Top Pick Out of Shape ('89)

It is a routine Michael Smith appears to have had enough of: The Celtics' No. 1 draft pick goes to Hellenic College each day, suits up in his practice garb and watches someone else prepare for the upcoming National Basketball Association season.

His workouts are with trainers. They say his shin splints have all but healed and that his back spasms are getting better, but he still has a way to go. He hasn't practiced all week and, as the team prepares for the opener against Milwaukee tomorrow, Smith appears headed to the injured list -- meaning that the Celtics may start this season without either of their draft picks.

On Tuesday, Smith spoke about never having missed a practice or a game because of injury. He called the injuries frustrating and said that "as soon as I get over one thing, along comes another." Yesterday the forward left practice without entertaining the media's questions. Known for

a confident demeanor, Smith is visibly frustrated that the season may start without him. And after having lost No. 2 pick Dino Radja to the courts and Brian Shaw to Italy, the Celtics were hoping that one of their four draft picks in the last two years (the other being Gerald Paddio, selected in the third round last year) would come through for them.

Did Smith come in physically unprepared for the rigorous NBA season?

"I don't think so," said trainer Ed Lacerte. "There are just different types of basketball; he's just used to playing a different type of ball than they play in the NBA. Everybody is different in how they adapt and, unfortunately, some have nagging injuries."

Lacerte said that as of yesterday Smith has "made some progress" with his back spasms, but he's not fully recovered. Lacerte added that after the Celtics drafted him, they did not put Smith through any conditioning tests, but that "he went through some things at BYU." The trainer indicated that the Celtics will put Smith through a conditioning program to test, among other things, his cardiovascular endurance and "all the things he has to do that he has not been able to do because of the injury."

Assistant coach Chris Ford said it's difficult to say whether Smith came in physically unprepared. But when Smith is healthy, he may have a lot of catching up to do.

"I don't know. He hasn't been able to respond to drills we set up," said Ford. "He hasn't had a lot of court time to evaluate what he can do. He's missed the majority of camp. You can't do that, coming in as a rookie."

Smith played 59 minutes in the exhibition season. He saw action in four games (no starts) and scored 24 points.

Guard Kevin Gamble sympathizes with Smith, having gone through what the former Brigham Young standout is experiencing.

"Mike's a nice guy," said Gamble, "but coming into the NBA is a big step. You have to be in great condition because guys like Chief Robert Parish, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale are going to be, and they're going to run you hard. Smith probably didn't know what to expect. Maybe his agent didn't tell him.

"When I went to Portland drafted in 1987, I thought I was prepared," added Gamble. "I had come from a conditioning program in Iowa. I thought I was in shape, but I wasn't. It's just a very big step."

Guard Dennis Johnson said that, initially, few players are totally prepared for the season.

"None of us were at the start of camp," said Johnson. "I think with Michael, he probably just expected to play right away. He probably didn't play much during the summertime, and now he's behind everyone because he's out with an injyry.

"I wouldn't say that he's out of shape, but I'd probably say maybe his conditioning was bad and the injury set him back more. And it's worse when you consider who he has to play behind; he'll probably have to play behind Kevin or Larry or Reggie Lewis, and that's hard to do, especially when you consider that this guy has been an all-everything, from high school on up. But I don't believe he was out of shape; I just think it's been conditioning."

Bird says he believes Smith has the necessary tools to make an impact for the Celtics this season, despite his start.

"There is nothing you can do about an injury; who am I to say that Michael is a wimp?" said Bird. "He's been working really hard. He's never had two-a-day practices before, so all of a sudden, he gets shin splints. I never had them, but I understand they're really painful.

"I think he's going to be fine for us. He's got a lot of things going his way."

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