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Celtics face challenge in picking 25th

6/23/2011 - Boston Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. -- While tempering expectations during a pre-draft media session Wednesday at the team's practice facility, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers expressed optimism in finding players who will be able to contribute next season and beyond, but admitted it's a challenge drafting where they are (picks Nos. 25 and 55) in what's been universally declared a "weak" draft.

"When you're drafting where we're drafting, I'm not trying to put a negative spin on this, I'm trying to be realistic, the 25th pick in the draft is probably not going to help us immediately," Ainge said. "But there are some players that we think can fit our roster, fit into the personality of our team and have a work ethic that can make our team better in practice and add depth to our roster."

Ainge did make one thing clear: The Celtics are not entertaining the idea of trading one of next year's first-round picks, particularly the protected pick obtained from the Oklahoma City Thunder (via the Los Angeles Clippers) in the Kendrick Perkins trade, in order to move up in this year's draft.

"We don't want to move next year's pick to get into this year's draft," Ainge said, "because the picks we have aren't good enough to get to the very, very top of the draft and we think next year's draft will be better."

Ainge waited a beat before quipping, "Austin Rivers is in next year's draft," with the Duke-bound high school phenom's father standing next to him. Ainge, who once got fined by the NBA for sitting next to Kevin Durant's mother at a University of Texas game, emphasized that he was joking, quickly adding, "Wait a minute, I can't say that."

Ainge confirmed that Jermaine O'Neal will return next season (barring an offseason change of heart) and that center Nenad Krstic will not return as he officially inked a two-year deal with CSKA Moscow on Wednesday. (According to his overseas representatives at Invictus Sports Group, there is no opt-out clause that will allow Krstic to return to the NBA.) That means the Celtics are in the market for size in this year's draft, but both Ainge and Rivers also said that need could be addressed via free agency.

"If size is available at the 25th pick, I don't know if that's a good sign or a bad sign," Rivers said. "But sometimes you can get lucky. Danny, I've said it for years, if there's a guy there at that spot that can play, he'll find him."

Added Ainge: "We have to address size in the offseason, for sure, but it doesn't necessarily have to be in the draft."

The Celtics only have six players under contract, but, as Rivers said, "the ones we have are really good." So the Celtics are simply hoping to supplement that core in Thursday's draft.

"We have a good team, like Doc says, we have a good core group of guys," Ainge said. "We have a busy offseason this year with a lot of free agents, a lot of roster spots to fill, and as soon as the draft is over, we'll be focusing on that. Though we've been focused on free agency and preparing for that, we've been talking to teams about trade possibilities and other deals that come in the offseason."

And while Ainge expressed a desire to build around his core, he reaffirmed that no one on his team is untradeable.

"We love our core group," he said. "I would just say this: I never tell players that I would never do anything like that. We have to keep our options open and explore. That's my job. Our intention is to bring our core group back."

A few other news items from the 20-minute Q&A session at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint:

• Celtics guard Rajon Rondo got in a treadmill workout while the media was present, running hard next to strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo. When Ainge was asked how Rondo's elbow was doing after it was dislocated during Game 3 of the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat in early May, Ainge looked up at Rondo on the treadmill and quipped, "You ask him," before giving an encouraging update.

"He's not 100 percent yet," Ainge said. "He's probably about four weeks away from playing basketball at full speed, but he can do some training and conditioning right now."

• Rivers revealed that nearly all of the six players under contract for Boston had been in the gym since Boston's season ended, including Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Jermaine O'Neal.

"No one is scrimmaging yet, but a lot of the guys are working out," Rivers said. "Ray's been in here, Paul's been in here a lot actually already, Rondo's been in here, Jermaine O'Neal's been in here. So it's nice to see. Those guys know how to pace themselves and what they need to work on. It's not like a generation of [Ainge and Rivers], where you got out of shape [during the summer] and used camp to get back into shape."

To which Ainge quipped, "Speak for yourself, I never did that. I do that now."

• More from Ainge on O'Neal's status for the 2011-12 season: "He has every intention of coming back. I wouldn't say -- something could happen that he won't come back -- but I think ... he has every desire to come back and play, and didn't like the way it finished this year. He doesn't want to end his career on that kind of note; he wants to be a much bigger contributor next year." Ainge also confirmed that O'Neal decided against offseason surgery on his injured wrist.

• Ainge said top assistant Lawrence Frank has expressed an interest in remaining with the Celtics if he is unable to land a head-coaching job. Frank was a finalist in Houston, Golden State and Toronto, and is still in the mix for the Detroit Pistons job. Ainge also said Frank, who is not under contract, could find an assistant job outside of Boston, but said the Celtics would like to retain his services.

"Lawrence has interest in coming back," Ainge said. "Lawrence will have an opportunity to coach. As you know, he's been a top candidate with a lot of teams this year, for sure runner-up in a couple of places. We want Lawrence back. Lawrence will have options with other teams too."

• Two days after Glen Davis offered a less-than-enthusiastic desire to return to Boston, citing a need to be in an organization that will let "Glen Davis be Glen Davis," Ainge didn't offer much of an update on his status with the team.

"I don't know," Ainge said. "Baby is a free agent, we can't talk to him about a contract or anything like that. We'll find out come July."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.