, Salem, MA


May 21, 2007

Call him Lucky: Owner chooses Tommy Heinsohn to represent team at lottery

You know this is serious. Even Tommy Heinsohn, Mr. Positive when it comes to the Boston Celtics, is nervous.

For the second time in a decade, the fortunes and future of the most storied franchise in pro basketball history will be decided by ping-pong balls.

And the 72-year-old Heinsohn is The Chosen One, selected by owner Wyc Grousbeck to go to Secaucus, N.J., tomorrow night to make sure it happens. With Red Auerbach's passing, Heinsohn has become the face of the championship years.

According to experts, here's what's at stake:

If the Celtics get the first pick, they will choose center Greg Oden, potentially the next "Bill Russell," and will probably be NBA champions within three years, winning maybe a few times after that.

If they get the second pick, they will choose forward Kevin Durant, the NCAA Player of the Year as an 18-year-old, and they immediately will have that second "franchise" player needed to compete for a championship for a decade.

After that?

Nobody wants to even think about it.

The NBA's Draft Lottery, now an official ESPN event, will take place tomorrow night only a few miles from where Heinsohn was born in Jersey City. The 14 teams who didn't make the playoffs - including and especially the Celtics - all have a shot at getting one of the first five picks.

But in reality, it's the top two, really even the top one, that is coveted.

The last time the Celtics were in this position as one of the favorites to get the first pick of the draft was a decade ago. Rick Pitino had just been hired away from Kentucky to coach and manage the franchise. Wake Forest center Tim Duncan was the top prize to the team that picked first.

Coming off a 15-67 season, there was only a 36.3 percent chance of the Celtics getting the first pick, but this was, well, the Celtics.

Pitino later admitted he accepted the position in Boston assuming the Celtics' ping-pong ball would be the winner and Duncan would lead the Celtics to several more championships.

It didn't happen. Instead the Celtics got the third pick and Chauncey Billups.

What did happen was another decade of losing, backbiting, negativity and, worst of all, apathy.

Now the Celtics have a 19.9 percent chance of getting the first pick overall and a 38.7 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks.

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