WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – The Boston Celtics aren’t focusing on a particular position, the sharpest shooter or the best passer in next Tuesday night’s NBA draft. What they really want is a smart player.

Basketball smart.

“There are a lot of players that don’t have real high IQs, don’t get straight As in college, that are brilliant on the basketball court,” Danny Ainge, the team’s executive director of basketball operations, said Friday. “I think that we need some more players like that vs. just best jumpers and so forth.”

The Celtics don’t draft until the 18th spot in the first round, but Ainge thinks they can pick someone who will help as a rookie.

Three rookies from last season’s draft – Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen – already have helped. But their inexperience, plus the emotional outbursts of veterans Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker at key moments, contributed to Boston’s elimination by Indiana in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics lost Game 7 at home 97-70, being outscored 22-9 in the third quarter after trailing 43-41 early in the period. But that collapse didn’t reveal much that Ainge didn’t already know about the team. So it won’t change his approach to the draft.

“The Indiana series was indicative of our season, so it’s not like when the season ended, as painful as that loss was in Game 7, that all of a sudden I changed my view on every player and our circumstance,” he said. “I feel like our team was very up-and-down, very erratic – spectacular some nights and very emotional and not very smart on other nights. I still feel that way.”

The Celtics also have two second-round picks, the 50th and 53rd, in the 60-pick draft.

Ainge said the top four players in the draft, in no special order, are Utah center Andrew Bogut, North Carolina forward Marvin Williams and guards Chris Paul of Wake Forest and Deron Williams of Illinois. He said he initiated exploratory contacts with the teams that hold the first four picks – Milwaukee, Atlanta, Portland and New Orleans – but the Celtics probably won’t make a trade to move up that high.

Ainge will be handling his third draft with the Celtics and learned something from the first two – don’t draft players to fill needs on the current team.

“You really can’t pay attention to (a player’s) position,” he said. “You “(can’t) give too much credence to your current roster. I think maybe some exceptions to that are teams that are vying for a championship” and drafting late in the first round.

Ainge said it’s likelier that he will draft a college player than a high schooler like Jefferson, whom he took with the 15th pick last year. And the draft is so deep that he might not lose much by trading the 18th choice for one later in the draft plus a future pick.

“I think the draft is deep enough that there’s not a great deal of separation from the middle to the latter part of the draft,” he said. “There’s going to be some good players not drafted.”

AP-ES-06-24-05 1917EDT


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