BOSTON (AP) -The Boston Celtics finally have something to look forward to after the second worst season in their history - a chance for the first pick in the NBA draft.
Fifty years after their first championship, the Celtics went 24-58 in a season filled with injuries and the inconsistencies of youth that contributed to an 18-game losing streak, the longest in franchise history.
The results didn't get much better as the season wore on. They went 2-9 in their last 11 games with both wins coming by two points.
``The team never did jell,'' said Danny Ainge, executive director of basketball operations. ``The team never played at full strength, and that's why it was a long season.''
Coach Doc Rivers, who has one season left on his contract and wants an extension, thinks the Celtics can show vast improvement next season.
``I think next year with health and with a little bit of roster improvement, we're going to be a playoff team,'' he said. ``I think we're going to have a chance to win our division.''
That chance could be much better if the Celtics win the first pick in the draft lottery on May 22. That could bring them Ohio State center Greg Oden. But with the second worst record in the NBA - Memphis was worst at 22-60 - Boston still has just a 19.9 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
Oden, who is considering entering the draft, and Kevin Durant of Texas, who has said he will enter it, could be the top two picks when the choices are made on June 28.
``Just because we're in the second ping-pong-ball slot (in the lottery) does not mean we're going to get the second or third pick,'' Rivers said, ``And if we don't, then we'll have to make decisions.''
The Celtics' first-round pick can be no lower than No. 5, but that could be used in trade talks as they try to find a veteran star to join the young team.
Pierce led Boston in scoring and was among three of the top six scorers to miss considerable time because of injuries. He played only 47 games, defensive stalwart Tony Allen played 33 and scorer Wally Szczerbiak just 32. Center Theo Ratliff, brought in to bring veteran stability, was limited by back problems to just two games.
``I believe before everyone was injured we would have been in the playoffs,'' said Rivers, who never had a regular starting lineup.
The brightest development was the play of 22-year-old forward Al Jefferson. He averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.5 blocks after a 2005-06 season in which he was overweight and injured.
``Going into the season, we had high expectations for Al and knew he was capable of having those big games,'' Ainge said, ``but what really impressed me with Al at his young age was his consistency.''
Gerald Green, just 21, averaged 10.4 points in his second pro season. His playing time increased because of the injuries but he has plenty of work to do on defense.
``For him to get minutes next year, he has to make a jump,'' Rivers said.
Point guard remains a concern after Sebastian Telfair, acquired before the season, struggled. Delonte West handled that job well, but rookie Rajon Rondo gained experience and could end up in that role.
In three seasons under Rivers, the Celtics win total dropped from 45 to 33 to 24. The combination of injuries, youth and defensive weakness hurt.
``Doc did a good job,'' Ainge said, ``and that's why we'd like to keep him as coach of this team and give him a real opportunity and chance to coach.''
Pierce remains Rivers' best player and has four years left on his contract. In his nine seasons, the Celtics have won just three playoff series.
``We (have) the second-worst record in the league. So there's a lot improvement we have to make,'' Pierce said. ``We've got a lot guys who improved individually, but you all know this is a team game.''
Through all the adversity, Rivers was most proud that his players stuck together.
``You never heard any bickering,'' he said. ``They stayed together as a unit throughout, and that's unusual in this league or in any league.''

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