Patience is the Other P-Word in Boston


If you're a Celtics fan, you've probably been drowning in self-pity since Sunday's NBA lottery. It's time to stop whining, get over the Celtics' unfortunate draw and focus your attention on the remainder of the draft field.

And while you're at it, make sure to take everything you've heard from NBA personnel types and self-proclaimed media experts the past few days and measure all of it for what it's worth: precious little.

It's become an annual rite of spring to project the NBA draft as paper-thin. And, though this year's college crop has a player clearly above the rest in Wake Forest's Tim Duncan, characterizing the '97 draft as weak is absurd at this stage of the game.

"It's only a thin draft because you have so many young players in it," Celtics coach and president Rick Pitino said Sunday after his team drew the third and sixth overall picks. "But let's take a look at a few of these young guys.

"If you look at Ron Mercer, what's he going to be in three years? If you look at Tracy McGrady, the high school basketball player, what's he going to be in three or four years?

"What you basically have in the draft are very young people, and they shouldn't look as good as Tim Duncan. If these players would have waited until their senior years, I believe this draft would have been very strong."

Mercer, who played for Pitino at Kentucky, just finished his sophomore year. McGrady, who will graduate from high school in June, hasn't even made it to the senior prom yet. They are symbols of a draft that has evolved to the point where a senior among its elite is the exception, not the rule.

Duncan, in fact, stands to become only the second senior this decade to be the top pick in the NBA draft. Last year, 11 of the 13 players in the lottery were underclassmen. Translated, this incredible youth movement means it has become impossible to gauge the impact of NBA draft classes until years down the road.

"What you have to do is project what these young players will be two, three and four years from now," said Pitino, who will evaluate talent and discuss draft strategy with his staff in the next few weeks. "If we can find a potential star using that line of thinking, we'll go in that direction."

The new Celtics boss, in a hint of the highly aggressive approach he'll employ in his job calling personnel shots for the Celtics, contacted San Antonio general manager Gregg Popovich five minutes after the Spurs won the lottery. Pitino, who will explore numerous options before the June 25 draft, wanted to keep the lines of communication open with Popovich in the unlikely event San Antonio decides to deal the rights to Duncan.

In the meantime, Pitino, who recruited many of the players who will make up this year's lottery class, will work toward securing the best talent with his team's two picks. And, though many in the Celtics community will continue to view the team's dual draft position as a major disappointment, exactly how grim is it to have two of the first six picks in any draft, particularly for a team coming off the worst season in franchise history?

"I guess when you win 15 games there are a lot of needs," said Pitino, aware even Duncan would represent just one piece of a rebuilding puzzle. "We can certainly fill some of the void with two players of outstanding potential.

"If you can develop that potential with 3 and 6, it may not be as good as 1, but you can get close to it if you do a very good job of evaluating the players and working with them. If we can evaluate properly, and get players hungry to be great, we're going to have two outstanding picks."

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