Hustle and Flow

It’s been nearly 10 years since the basketball gods smiled down on San Antonio and, via a lucky ping-pong ball, delivered Tim Duncan to the Spurs. While May 18, 1997, the date of that year’s NBA draft lottery, is fondly recalled in the Alamo City, it is steeped in infamy for fans of the Boston Celtics. For the first time in quite a while though, things are looking a little greener in Boston.

The Celtics arrive in San Antonio battling the Memphis Grizzlies for the worst record in the NBA. Normally, this would be a major cause of concern for a squad that, given the recent success of the Red Sox and Patriots, has become irrelevant in its own city. Awaiting the team with this year’s worst regular season record, however, is a great chance to draft Ohio State’s Greg Oden or Texas standout Kevin Durant, generation-defining players capable of turning around any snake-bitten franchise.

Celtics head coach (and former Spur) Doc Rivers has already publicly suggested that if he’s given the first pick in the draft, he would go with the bigger of the two big men. Who can argue with him? Standing at seven-foot, Oden can alter any contest with his shot-blocking ability and showed a nice touch at the offensive end earlier this season, despite playing with an injured shooting hand. NBA draft convention states, “When in doubt go with size,” but it was this type of thinking that netted the Portland Trail Blazers Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan in 1984.

If the Celtics were to wind up with the second pick in the draft, they would no doubt take Durant, who some overzealous hoops pundits are already calling the most gifted player ever to don a college basketball uniform. Durant is putting up strong numbers in his first — and probably only — season with the Longhorns and has amazed obervers with his dazzling on-the-court skills. The Longhorns are counting on Durant’s imposing presence to carry them into this season’s NCAA Final Four, which could be a great sign of things to come for the Celtics.  Since Texas, particularly San Antonio, benefited immensely from the arrival of Duncan in ’97, perhaps we can return the favor to Beantown in the form of Durant in ’07.

Of course, all of this is contingent on how the Celtics finish up their season, and whether or not the ping-pong balls bounce in their favor. Ever since the tragic death of Len Bias, two days after he was drafted by Boston in 1986, the once-golden franchise has endured a string of terrible luck, including the shocking passing of All-Star Reggie Lewis. Possibly acknowledging his team’s recent history, Celtic All-Star forward Paul Pierce offered a cautious take on the upcoming draft.

“I know how people are thinking with us maybe getting a high pick and all that, but I really don’t look at it like that,” Pierce told the Boston Herald. “I don’t put my faith in the draft. I don’t count on landing the number-one or number-two pick, which everybody is hoping for. It’s hit-or-miss either way, whether you make trades or whether you draft. Everything is a gamble.”

After returning from a painful elbow injury, Pierce recently led the Celtics to a five-game winning streak and the young team has continued to show flashes of improvement. Coach Rivers insists that, regardless of fan hopes for a high draft pick, his squad is intent on winning as many games as possible. Awaiting them in the Alamo City is a resurgent Spurs team that has never lost to the Celtics in the Tim Duncan era.

Under the watchful eye of Coach Gregg Popovich, San Antonio appears to be on track for another deep playoff run, and Duncan will do his best to push the Celtics one loss closer to that number-one draft pick. After all, it’s the least he can do.

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