As much as Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge wanted a bigger return for Al Jefferson and the No. 5 pick in the flat-lined, four-team blockbuster trade proposal that died on Monday, little was done for the franchise's trampled image when Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal turned out to be one more star privately disclosing disdain over the prospects of playing for the Celtics.
First, it was Phoenix's Shawn Marion insisting that he didn't want to go to Boston.
Then it was Minnesota's Kevin Garnett.
And now it's O'Neal.
Here's the problem for Ainge: According to a league executive, Paul Pierce has finally told team management that unless the Celtics come out of this week with a talented veteran co-star for him, they should expect him to make a public declaration soon after Thursday's draft that he wants a trade.
"Danny is under tremendous pressure, from inside and outside, to get a deal for someone done this week," one league executive said.
As hard as the Celtics, Pacers, Timberwolves and Lakers worked on the collapsed deal that would've sent Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles, Boston and Indiana couldn't come to terms with what they were to receive. The Pacers were uncomfortable with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom without minimally the Lakers' pick at 19, just as the Celtics believed they had to get more back for sending Jefferson, the emerging forward, and the fifth pick to Minnesota.
There was some belief that Pierce was going to demand a trade upon his return from a wrist injury during the regular season, when the bottom fell out of Boston's season with 17 straight losses. He didn't do it.
Ainge and Doc Rivers traveled to Phoenix on Monday night for a shared workout with the Suns that included Florida's Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer and Georgetown's Jeff Green on Tuesday. If Ainge has to pick one of those players – never mind China's Yi Jianlian – it appears that Pierce will soon let him know that he's not interested in the painstaking process of watching the kid develop beside him.
THREE'S TOO MUCH FOR CONLEY
In a lot of ways, the NBA draft doesn't start until the Atlanta Hawks make their choice at No. 3. Whatever the public pressure to take a point guard, rest assured this: They won't be drafting Mike Conley Jr. that high.
After watching him toss brick after brick in Monday's workout with Al Horford and Noah, Atlanta officials had no reason to re-visit a decision they made weeks ago. It isn't that they're not intrigued with Conley, but forget making him the third overall selection. In fact, the Hawks are hoping that if Conley slips past Memphis at No. 4 and Minnesota at No. 7, he will drop down to them at No. 11.
If Conley doesn't make it that far, several league sources said Billy Knight's infatuation with Luke Ridnour will result with the 11th pick being traded to Seattle for the Sonics point guard.
"A lot of the staff there likes Acie Law," one rival executive said, "but Billy has never been sold."
For now, Horford, the 6-foot-10 forward, is expected to be Atlanta's choice at No. 3, but the Hawks will be entertaining trade offers through Thursday's draft. One trade possibility that was discussed but never came together, two league sources said, was Golden State's suggestion that point guard Monta Ellis could be available in a package for the third overall choice.
The Warriors are believed to be intrigued with drafting Yi and are still running scenarios past lottery teams with the hopes of moving up from No. 19.
MORE PREDRAFT CHATTER
• The Chicago Bulls are bringing 7-footer Spencer Hawes back to Chicago on Tuesday for a second visit, two league sources said, inspiring belief that they're committed to taking him with the ninth pick. Hawes is a back-to-the-basket center with offensive skills who complements the Bulls' vast perimeter talent. Still, it will be hard to pass up Noah if he's still available at No. 9 for Chicago. "That kid was born to play for Skiles," one Eastern Conference executive said.
• New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower has spent a great deal of time researching Georgia Tech freshman Thaddeus Young and could be a surprise pick over USC's Nick Young at No. 13.
• The New Jersey Nets are thinking long and hard about the baggage of Boston College's Sean Williams, the shot-blocking center with a history as a headcase. Remember, Nets executive Rod Thorn was an assistant coach on the Nets' ABA championship team with B.C. coach Al Skinner as a young point guard. Skinner, a straight shooter, will give Thorn his honest appraisal of the junior he threw off the team last season. The Nets are considering Glen "Big Baby" Davis but aren't sure there's enough upside with him to justify choosing Davis over Williams or Duke's Josh McRoberts.
• Javaris Crittenton, the freshman out of Georgia Tech, has impressed with his athleticism and long point guard frame at 6-5, but said one Western Conference G.M.: "Like a lot of young point guards, he dribbles way too much never really going anywhere." Still, Crittenton could go as high as No. 14 to the Los Angeles Clippers, who need to start thinking past the shredded knee of Shaun Livingston.
- Danny Ainge