Decent value at the 5-spot

June 17, 2007

Assessing next week's NBA draft, some have said that picks No. 3 through 15 are of similar quality, if not completely interchangeable.

But don't tell that to the Celtics, who are mulling over a list of seven and possibly eight players in the event they keep the fifth pick.

Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he doesn't have a definitive favorite. Some players, however, are clearly more equal than others. Readiness is the operative word if the Celtics don't trade the pick. They don't need another project. The one player curiously absent from their auditions - at least for now - is Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. The Celtics must feel that with Rajon Rondo on board, one poor-shooting point guard is enough.

It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that three of the four most enticing possibilities played three seasons at Florida, including the last two for national titles.

Here is an attempt to handicap the field:

** 1. Al Horford, Florida - He's big, physical, mature, and probably won't be there at No. 5. Memphis is currently favored to take this big post defender and rebounder fourth. If he's available at No. 5, there's a minor question of how much his game would intrude on that of Al Jefferson. Then again, if the talent is there, the Celtics aren't good enough to worry about duplicating someone else's role or skill swet. Horford was strong enough to body up against centers in college, including Greg Oden. If he can fill that role against NBA big men, this would be considered a great match. He eclipsed Joakim Noah as Florida's best frontcourt player last year.

** 2. Corey Brewer, Florida - Celtics management is confident that Brewer, like Horford, could contribute tomorrow. As evidenced by his defense during a workout against Florida State's Al Thornton almost two weeks ago, he can guard smallish power players. Considering that the C's greatest need is on defense - scoring points is not a problem - this guy will be difficult to pass up. He was the Final Four's MVP despite being surrounded by stars. He may also be a rich man's Tony Allen - more defensively versatile, longer and perhaps even more effective with the ball.

** 3. Jeff Green, Georgetown - The next three players are probably on equal footing, and Green fits in a position Ainge has long desired to fill - as a so-called ``Power 3'' who can overpower small forwards at both ends. He's an explosive scorer. The main question is his occasional tendency to disappear. He chose to pass out of double teams during the Hoyas' loss to Ohio State in the NCAA semifinals, and ultimately took only five shots in the most important game of his life.

** 4. Noah, Florida - A terrific shot blocker who is at his best coming over from the weak side. His shooting form is horrid, and his offense isn't well-defined, but it worked for Billy Donovan. Noah is also the most energetic player on the board - probably a role player in the NBA, but a valuable one, especially when it comes to defense and filling lanes on the break.

** 5. Thornton, Florida State - This tweener forward is potentially the best scorer - outside of Kevin Durant - in the lottery. Like Green, he's a superior athlete who could be a handful at the 3 spot, with shooting range that extends to 20 feet. But he was also the only player of note on a mediocre college team. He may not have much in the team sense department.

** 6. Yi Jianlian, China - He's a gamble at No. 5, and the last thing Ainge needs is to explain a mistake with the highest pick he's had. Though some have compared this athletic 7-footer to Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, Yi doesn't have the Italian's 3-point range. He's more of a midrange jump shooter who probably isn't ready for the NBA's more physical style.

** 7. Brandan Wright, North Carolina - A fluid, athletic forward who could go as high as Atlanta at No. 3. He's also a freshman project, and the Hawks know a thing or two about that kind of trouble. They drafted another North Carolina freshman forward - the underachieving Marvin Williams - two years ago. If nowhere else, Wright appears to have fallen down the Celtics' list. Repeat - they don't need another project.

** 8. Julian Wright, Kansas - At a smallish 6-foot-9, he is clearly offensively oriented and a finesse perimeter player. He was also inconsistent as a sophomore. He could come into a play if the C's trade down.

More Gator aid

Noah, Brewer and Horford may be getting all of the attention, but Noah has high hopes for two other teammates - point guard Taurean Green and backup center Chris Richard.

Green, also a junior, has a chance of cracking the late first round. Richard, a banger obscured by the fact he had to play behind Noah and Horford, is much further under the radar.

``It will be quick that people realize what he brings to the table,'' Noah said of Green. ``Chris Richard never got the attention he deserved. But he has it more figured out right now. He's someone people will definitely sleep on, though. But someone is going to find out that he's a diamond in the dirt.''

Richard was the late-game hero in Florida's win over UCLA in the NCAA semifinals. He had 16 points and didn't miss a shot (7-for-7 shooting). . . .

Noah, something of a self-styled draftnik, also has his own ideas on the player on the board who is most ready for the NBA.

``It's Yi,'' he said of the Chinese star. ``He's a great player. Based on his drill work, he's the No. 1 player in the draft. You just don't know how he'll react when someone talks trash to him or throws an elbow at him.''

High rollers indeed

The Wynn Resort in Las Vegas must have paid out some incredible money to retain an especially elite group of NBA pensioners.

How else to explain an adult fantasy basketball camp next October that will include Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving, Jerry West, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Clyde Drexler and Ann Meyers.

Of course, hitching a ride on the Space Shuttle may be more affordable.

The fee for the four-day camp, called the Friends of Bill Russell Adult Fantasy Basketball Camp, is $15,500.

Legends don't come cheap.

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