Rick Pitino Expecting Big Things from 3 and 6 spots?

June 19, 1997

With less than a week remaining until a truly critical draft for the Celtics, Rick Pitino is now confident he will get a player he covets with his top pick.

If the Celts retain their top selection, No. 3 overall, Pitino will be able to welcome either Tony Battie, Keith Van Horn or Chauncey Billups. A certain Mr. Timothy Theodore Duncan will be long gone, of course.

"Those are the three guys I really like at 3," Pitino, the Celtics' coach and president, said yesterday after working out Van Horn. "I know we'll get one of them, so I'm feeling a lot better about this draft and where we stand.

"There are another three players I really like at 6, but I'd rather not get into those names."

You can figure on some combination of Tim Thomas, Ron Mercer, Tracy McGrady and Antonio Daniels, but even that's subject to change.

Van Horn was impressive in his workout, contributing to a rise in his stock over the last two weeks. The University of Utah forward has been shooting the ball extremely well in workouts and, after several rounds of doubt were fired at his fitness for NBA duty, it has become quite possible he will not get past No. 2. Denver has spoken with Philadelphia about trading up to the second position to get Van Horn.

Battie was reportedly very impressive in his audition for the 76ers, and while he is still growing into his 6-foot-11 body, he's a shot-blocker with skills generally found in smaller players.

Billups, who was in Boston yesterday for a discussion with the Celts (they saw him work out in a group session in Connecticut recently), has apparently won the battle to prove he's not just a scorer who happens to play the point. Once thought to be a lock for Denver at No. 5, he is likely to go higher.

"I really think this draft is better than what people are saying," Pitino said. "The problem for most teams is that it's concentrated in the top six players. If you're talking about the top six, I think this a strong draft.

"But overall, it's probably the weakest draft in a long, long time. There are some very solid guys up top, but if you go to seven, I can't tell you if that guy is going to play in the NBA or not. That's why I think we're in a very good position with two of those first six picks. I feel comfortable that the people we'll be looking at with those picks are going to make it in this league."

The larger question is whether the Celtics will keep the sixth pick. The third overall choice could also go in a deal, but the bigger names that would fetch No. 3 have yet to be properly dangled.

"We're on the phone with every team in the league every day," said Pitino. "But so far we've looked at about 15 trade proposals. Just about all of them are ones that give us the chance to free up our (salary) cap situation. But there isn't anything yet out there that's going to help us right away, and we want to look at that first. We're exploring all avenues, but we want to see what's going to help us the most.

"As far as the draft goes and what our chances are there, I'm much more excited after working guys out."

The Celts will more than likely be done with their in-person workouts following a trip to Philadelphia this morning to see Battie. Pitino said a player or two could be brought in for another look thereafter, but most of the club's focus until draft night would be the videotape machine and the telephone.

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