C's Ready to Punt

June 16, 1997

As the June 25 NBA draft approaches, the Celtics continue to keep their ears and options open. The C's own the third and sixth overall picks, but they will likely consider deals until the moment president and coach Rick Pitino steps up to a microphone at the FleetCenter to announce the first pick.

"We're currently canvassing the league to see just what the interest level is out there for these draft picks," said Celtics general manager Chris Wallace, who enjoyed a rare day off yesterday as his wife and newborn son arrived in town for Father's Day. "At the same time, we're proceeding onward as if we will be exercising these picks. That's the only way to do it."

Wallace, 37, formerly the Miami Heat's director of college and international scouting, was hired by Pitino on May 27. In the nearly three weeks that have followed, he's barely had a chance to come up for air, joining Pitino, assistant coaches Winston Bennett and Jim O'Brien, chief scout Leo Papile and an overworked video crew in the considerable draft preparation process.

"It's certainly a team effort and it's keeping a lot of people very busy," said Wallace, who found temporary living quarters in an apartment within walking distance of the Celtics' offices. "Obviously there's a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, and we want to make sure we explore every option.

"It's due to diligence, really. You're looking at all aspects of your roster, the rosters that are out there, and the market value for the picks."

Although the draft has been labeled as one of the weakest this decade, the market value of the Celtics' two picks could be better than many acknowledge. Wallace and Pitino have likely discovered there are teams hungry for a taste at the lottery - particularly winning organizations that have spent years drafting marginal talent with latter first-round picks.

The lottery nucleus after sure No. 1 pick Tim Duncan does not include a ready-made impact player, but talent exists, especially among the first 7-8 players. Depending on whom Philadelphia chooses at No. 2, the Celtics are looking at a pool that includes Texas Tech's Tony Battie, Colgate's Adonal Foyle, Bowling Green's Antonio Daniels, Colorado's Chauncey Billups, Utah's Keith Van Horn, Villanova's Tim Thomas, Kentucky's Ron Mercer and high school sensation Tracy McGrady.

None is likely to become the next Michael Jordan, but they carry considerable upside potential suitable for a team in a long-range rebuilding plan. Before they pull the trigger on a deal that involves their dual draft position, the Celtics must be certain they're getting a top-flight package in return.

"It's something we have (10) days left to consider," Wallace said. "With our research of the (college) players available - we've had workouts with some of them and we'll have workouts with all of them prior to the draft - it's an ongoing process.

"The most important thing is to make sure you've considered every option before deciding on the direction you're going to take."

Of the aforementioned players, only Daniels and Foyle auditioned for the Celtics before Pitino and his staff spent a week in Chicago at the predraft camp. Van Horn is expected in this week, as are Billups and Thomas. Pitino, because of his familiarity with Mercer, felt it unnecessary to audition the Kentucky swingman, projected as a shooting guard.

Others the Celtics have worked out - Providence's Austin Croshere, Iowa State's Kelvin Cato, Michigan's Maurice Taylor, Stanford's Brevin Knight - are considered middle first-rounders. The Celtics' interest in auditioning them means Pitino and Wallace are covering all bases in case a deal comes along that involves trading down picks.

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