Draft hopefuls relieved that workout finish line is in sight

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When his workout with the Boston Celtics was completed, North Carolina big man Brice Johnson plopped into an uncomfortable desk chair in the team's Hall of Fame room and still looked like he might fall asleep on the spot. Then came the first question in what would be a marathon 11-minute session with Boston reporters: "Are you fiery?"

At this very moment? No. Not even close. Johnson soon revealed how this visit to Boston was his fifth workout in six days and with maybe 10 workouts completed overall -- he can't keep track of what city he is in, let alone the total number of stops on this audition circuit -- his gas gauge is pointing below empty.

"My body is about to fall apart at this point," Johnson said. "This was my fourth in four days, so it’s pretty tough. ... I need some rest, man."

Johnson is hardly alone at this time of year. Players expected to fall outside the lottery are cramming in as many workouts as possible, trying to prove they deserve to hear their name called on draft night. Johnson sits 37th on ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford's big board, and the 6-foot-9 forward could be a late first-round pick because he's got excellent athleticism with an ability to rebound and block shots.

The Celtics, armed with eight picks in this year's draft, are a popular destination for players of all skill levels. On Saturday, Boston auditioned 12 more players as part of two six-man workouts. With just five days until next Thursday's draft, the team understands that a lot of these players are running on fumes.

"We take it into account. We understand, it’s tough," Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said. "These guys have gone through a tough month, most of them. Guys are a little worn down at this period in time."

The Celtics' surplus of picks include Nos. 16, 23, 31 and 35 -- spots where Johnson might be available. He detailed recent stops in Indiana, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Toronto, all with the hopes of convincing teams that they should consider him.

"It's a grind. I've been in four different cities in the last four days. It's started to catch up to me [Saturday] at the end of this workout so I was like, 'Hopefully, I have a break because I don't think I can go anymore,'" Johnson said. "I just physically can't. I need a break. I need two or three days to get my body back in good grace with itself, because I'm feeling pretty bad right now."

That Johnson fought through resonated with the Celtics' brass.

"A lot of guys would just tell their agent, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’m tired,’" Ainge said. "And [Johnson] came through and he pushed. He played well."

Boston's pre-draft workouts end with a three-minute sprint drill, playfully nicknamed the Boston Marathon. It forces players to push themselves one final time at the end of a 90-minute session. Johnson put up a decent number for a big man, logging 25 court lengths.

"By the end of it, I was like, 'Alright, I'm done.' I just walked off," Johnson said. "I just walked off the court, shook everybody's hand, and walked off. I was like, 'I can't do this. I love you all to death, but I'm tired. I've got to go sit down.'"

The rigors of the NBA -- like three games in four nights -- sounds like a breezy situation after what Johnson has endured this past week.

"Here, you get up at 8 a.m., you come [to the team's practice facility], they weigh you. Then you do all the physical tests, the strength tests, and then you go out there and work out and then run, like we did [Saturday]," Johnson said. "Then you do media, meet with the GMs, hop on a plane, and head to the next city. I won't get there until 10 o'clock, go to sleep and start over again. It's a pretty hectic day. I wish I could get a little treatment in here and there, but I've got to go to the next city."

Johnson sees a lot of the same faces in the workout circuit, and the players joke about the grind. Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, a late second-round hopeful, said Saturday that Boston was his 16th pre-draft workout.

"This is the last one, so I’m done," Ferrell said. "I’m happy."

UNLV big man Stephen Zimmerman was asked what he's thought of the pre-draft process.

"I definitely thought I would be able to go home at least once," cracked the 19-year-old 7-footer, who is projected as a second-round pick after leaving UNLV after one season.

"My agent made sure that I’m not going home. [Saturday] is actually the first day I get to go home. I’ve been on the road for, I think, almost three weeks now. At first I packed to leave for four days, so I’ve had the hotels wash my clothes a couple times. It’s definitely a grind. I’m still working out for NBA teams, so I can’t really ask for anything more."

Zimmerman said he's got one more workout left before the draft. But there's a light at the end of the draft workout tunnel.

"I’ve got one [workout left]. Hopefully. My agent is thinking about adding another one," Zimmerman said. "I might have to whisper in his ear a little bit."