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Nothing but (wide) net: Celtics evaluating all draft hopefuls

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Anthony Nesmith/Cal Sport Media/AP Images

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics wrapped up a third consecutive day of pre-draft workouts on Friday with a six-man group that was heavy on mid-majors and included only one player that spots on ESPN.com's top 100 Big Board (Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes at No. 73).

In fact, of the 23 players that Boston has auditioned during four six-man workouts over the past 10 days, only one player projects to be on Boston's radar with its first of four picks (No. 16) in next month's draft: Arkansas' Bobby Portis, who ranks 16th on Chad Ford's Big Board).

Three more -- Kansas’ Cliff Alexander (32 on Ford's Big Board), LSU's Jordan Mickey (37), and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas (39) -- could be targets when Boston picks at Nos. 28 and 33, but the remaining 19 bodies are players that simply might be hoping to hear their name called by the end of the draft.

With Boston armed with multiple picks that could allow it to shuffle around the draft board, including the potential to climb up, many have wondered why the Celtics would audition so many fringe candidates to start the pre-draft workout process.

One reason is timing.

"Some guys are not working out for as many teams, so they start the process a little later," said Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge, who organizes the team's draft visits. "[Most first-round hopefuls] are with their [private] workout guys for another week or two trying to improve before they go out to the team [visits]. The guys that need to do 15 or 20 [team] workouts obviously have to start earlier or they’ll run out of days."

But these visits are anything but perfunctory. The Celtics pride themselves in a quest to leave no stone unturned and a potential lottery pick earns the same sort of attention as a local college player whose basketball career might not extend beyond that workout.

Boston also approaches these workouts with an open mind -- especially because their coach comes from a mid-major background.

"I enjoy watching the players come in," Ainge said. "I see them all year in their college programs and I like to see them outside of that. It’s amazing how many times guys from smaller schools, once you take the jerseys off, they match up very well [with players from the nation's top programs]. I really enjoy that."

Many of the players that Boston could target at No. 16 will pass through as the draft draws closer. Ainge will try to convince the agents of potential lottery picks to visit as well, given the possibility that the Celtics could move up in the draft given their pile of assets.

All these auditions of non-ranked players might leave a fan scratching his or her head over a Boston team that clearly needs impact talent to take the next step in its quest to return to legitimate contender status. But it speaks to the franchise's larger philosophy, which is due diligence. An undrafted player who goes oversees and blossoms might remember that pre-draft visit when he's deciding which NBA team to sign with.

The Celtics also use these visits to help gauge whether to put some of these players under their control. Some could be swooped up with a second-round pick (and potentially stashed overseas to develop, much like 2013 pick Colton Iverson), others will get requested to play for the team at summer league or invited to training camp with a goal of funneling them to the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.

"These are guys that we’re trying to evaluate," Ainge said. "If we draft them now, great. If they go undrafted, maybe we can get them then. Maybe they go to Europe and have a couple good years, then we can talk to them. It’s all trying to evaluate for the future."

Friday's workout featured Sykes, Eastern Kentucky's Corey Walden, Georgetown (Ky.) College's Gerard Coleman, Northeastern's Scott Eatherton, SMU's Yanick Moreira, and Michigan State's Travis Trice.

Coleman, a Mattapan native who played his high school ball nearby in West Roxbury, accentuates the fluid nature of these workouts. Boston had a draft prospect drop out of Friday's workout and Ainge heeded the advice of Leo Papile, a former member of the Celtics front office staff and legend in the local AAU circuit, and extended an invite to Coleman, who spent time at Providence College and Gonzaga before finishing his career at the small NAIA school.

"We like to help local guys out when we can," Ainge said. "I think he might be the first guy we’ve had in for a draft workout with a Boston Bruins tattoo."

Getting Eatherton in for a workout wasn't too hard, either. Ainge smiled while noting how the Northeastern product had been working out at the same Boston Sports Club gym that houses the Celtics' training facility. They simply brought him across the hall for the workout.

Ainge lauded the point guard play at the workout and said not to judge this batch of players by their schools.

"These guys have been very good players," Ainge said. "Keifer Sykes, for instance, has been a good player for a couple years, he’s been on our radar for a couple years. Corey Walden has also been a guy who put up some very impressive numbers -- led the nation in steals -- so there’s some statistical things that pop out that go, ‘Hey, maybe we need to check this kid out.’"

Added Ainge: "Point guards were really tough today. The three of the guys that had really great college careers, you could see why today -- they are good players."