The 1989 Draft: Looks Like it's Michael Smith v. Tim Hardaway

For the Celtics, the NBA draft won't begin with the first pick. The action begins with the 10th.

The first nine names are written in stone. What happens up there will be of no concern to Boston. The fun begins at No. 10, when the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves come to bat. There are six or seven players of interest to Minnesota, Orlando (11), Portland (12) and Boston (13). Watch the names disappear and you'll have a clue whom the Celtics will take.

Those players are Nick Anderson, a 6-foot-5-inch swingman from Illinois; Todd Lichti, a 6-4 guard from Stanford; Michael Smith, a 6-10 forward from Brigham Young; B.J. Armstrong, a 6-1 guard from Iowa; Gary Leonard, a 7-foot center from Missouri; and Tim Hardaway, a 5-11 guard from Texas-El Paso.

There is one other consideration. It is by no means a ridiculous notion that the Celtics will be the team to take the plunge on Yugoslavian Vlade Divac. He's a good enough talent to merit strong consideration.

Whatever they do, the Celtics feel they can help themselves at this unaccustomed level in the draft. As a rule, the Celtics either draft very low or very high. They're not accustomed to being in the middle.

"We want to maximize this draft potential as much as possible," explains coach Jimmy Rodgers. "We want to cover as many bases as we can. Where we are, I don't think we can go wrong."

By "maximizing" the pick, Rodgers means that it should be a selection that will have the greatest long-range value. The team might take a player it can project as a replacement at a vulnerable position two years down the road, at the expense of a player who might contribute more to the 1989-90 effort.

Such a player is Leonard, a reasonably athletic pivotman who never seemed to hit it off with coach Norm Stewart at Missouri, if playing time is a gauge. But most people project him as a backup center, and with Joe Kleine being only 26, do the Celtics need both?

The best talent of the bunch is Anderson, the Illinois product described by one coach as a "Mitch Richmond type." He's so good, in fact, that it's difficult to imagine this kid lasting as long as 13. He's definitely a Bill Musselman kind of guy, and he should have great appeal to Portland as well.

It's almost a mortal lock that if Minnesota doesn't take Lichti, Orlando will. Magic president Pat Williams envisions Lichti as a cornerstone player and personality for 10 years, and Williams may suffer a nervous breakdown if he doesn't get him.

That means the Celtics will more than likely be looking at Smith vs. either Hardaway or Armstrong.

Smith is an offensive player. Exclusively. Says one scout, "He guards no one. And he doesn't even get back on defense when he's caught at the top of the key."

Oh, but he can score. He dropped in 26 a game for the Cougars last season, shooting 53 percent from the floor and 92 from the line. He is a 3-point threat. And he is a great passer. He is also regarded as something of an eccentric, although first-team GTE Academic All-Americans are the kind of deviants most teams can routinely accommodate.

Smith has fans as high up in the draft as No. 9 (Washington), and he could be a solid choice for Orlando if Minnesota deprives the Magic of Lichti.

If the Celtics were to take either Hardaway or Armstrong (or any other surprise point guard, such as Mookie Blaylock), it would not mean they are in any way down on Brian Shaw as their floor leader. Rather, it would demonstrate their confidence in him as a ballplayer who resists categorization. There are things to like about both Hardaway and Armstrong, but Armstrong would appear to be the more logical choice, since he can shoot much better than Hardaway, whose jumper is truly ugly to behold, and whose true strengths lie in other areas.

The Celtics view the decision as a complicated one. "There are no right answers," explains general manager Jan Volk. "The only right answers are known when you win a championship. The draft is part of the big picture. The fact is, we think we're going to have a pretty good team next year. But are we on the bubble, where we may just need a little boost in order to win a championship, or are we in a situation where we should prepare for the transition period?"

Like most people, the Celtics honestly believe they are situated well within the 1989 talent dropoff (seen generally around No. 18 or so), and that they can get a player who will be able to make an impact in the NBA. And remember: With Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw as their last two picks, they're on a roll.

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