Draftwise, Celtics could triumph

Sometimes it's good to be bad. At least for the first 82 games of the season.

One of the unintended benefits of the Celtics' late-season tumble to fourth place in the Eastern Conference is that they've stumbled into a lofty pick with the No. 19 selection in the 2010 NBA draft.

While Boston's final three postseason opponents -- the Cavaliers (whose 30th pick is owned by the Wizards), Magic (29), and Lakers (whose 28th pick is owned by the Grizzlies) -- all boast selections in the back end of the draft, Boston shimmied all the way up to the teens, securing the best possible position for its record.

Boston benefited from winning a four-way tiebreaker among teams that finished with a 50-32 mark, vaulting from as low as No. 22. The Celtics are fortunate the NBA doesn't enforce the same rule as the NFL, where the two teams in the championship game assume the final two spots in the draft. Especially since this year's pick could be so vital to the success of the 2010-11 squad.

First a roster reset: The Celtics currently have six players under contract for next season in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has suggested twice in the past week that Wallace is likely to retire, while Perkins could start the season sidelined as he recovers from impending surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his right knee.

That means the Celtics don't even have enough players currently under contract and healthy to field a starting five. And that's assuming Pierce doesn't trigger an early termination option this offseason.

What's more, the Celtics are currently committed to $63.3 million over those six players. Wallace's retirement has potential to clear $6.3 million off the books, depending on how a potential buyout is facilitated. Regardless, if the Celtics need to fill as many as 10 roster spots and plan to pay a similar $87 million as they paid last year, that leaves about $30 million in wiggle room.

Do the Celtics re-sign Ray Allen and at what cost? Will a Western Conference team looking for a so-called Kobe Stopper try to lure away Tony Allen at a price tag that Boston can't match? Does Boston want to bring back Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine, and at what cost?

None of this is likely to be sorted out by Thursday's draft, adding a dash of intrigue to how the Celtics proceed. We'll outline three potential scenarios the team could explore below.

But first, let's temper expectations of those hoping to land the next Rajon Rondo (21st pick, 2006 draft). Keep in mind that Boston's track record this century at or around No. 19 isn't stellar and includes Gerald Green (18, 2005), Dahntay Jones (20, 2003) and Joseph Forte (21, 2001).

Boston's past picks at No. 19 include Acie Earl (1993) and Dee Brown (1990). So what does this year hold?

SHOOTING STARS: Before Perkins' knee injury, the Celtics' area of greatest need appeared to be a legitimate scorer, ideally someone who could come off the bench and provide instant offense. In fact, if Boston doesn't bring back Ray Allen, the Celtics might be searching for someone to plug in at starting shooting guard, given the lack of a low-cost option on the free-agent market.

Boston could set its eyes on Oklahoma State's James Anderson (a wing scorer who could be a quality foil for Tony Allen, who went to the same school), Xavier's Jordan Crawford (athletic scorer renowned for dunking on LeBron James a couple of summers back) or Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson (young, physical guard whose reputation as being selfish might not be a bad thing for an offense-starved second unit).

Trouble here is that those shooters are all projected at late first round, which means the Celtics might find better value looking for a center/forward.

BIG ASPIRATIONS: If Wallace walks away and Perkins isn't ready to start the season, suddenly the Celtics have a frontcourt depth chart featuring just Garnett and Davis.

Boston can add emergency, low-cost big bodies in the mold of Williams through free agency. But a Boston team that got annihilated on the offensive glass during the Finals knows the importance of having quality bigs up front in order to compete for a title.

The Celtics could set their sights on Florida State's 7-foot-1 Solomon Alabi, whose long, athletic body and ability to block shots would add a jolt of youth to the Boston frontcourt. Or the Celtics could hope Marshall's 7-foot freshman Hassan Whiteside slides into the late teens. The Green will probably avoid overseas options like Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia) or Tibor Pleiss (Germany) given their immediate need for a body (Semih Erden, anybody?).

But in the end, the direction they go might be impacted by the 18 teams in front of them.

BEST OF WHAT'S AROUND: How the draft board plays out could influence how the Celtics pick. If Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe slips out of the lottery, do the Celtics dive at the point guard to add depth behind Rondo? Will swingmen like Nevada's Luke Babbitt or Butler's Gordon Hayward still be around at No. 19? Would Washington's Quincy Pondexter make sense at that spot?

Despite a seemingly immediate need for impact players, Boston could ultimately trade down and attempt to lure more picks or players in order to build its roster outside of the draft. That is the path more often taken, considering that -- given Tony Allen's impending free agency -- Paul Pierce (1998) is the only first-round draft pick (made by the team) remaining on the roster of all its first-round selections over the past 12 years.

A closer look: In the coming days, we'll examine some of these names and possibilities in more detail in the Celtics Blog.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.