- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

The Washington Wizards are finding out that having the top pick in the NBA Draft isn't always all it can be.
There are years that feature "sure-thing" franchise players like Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan. And then there are drafts like tomorrow's with a bunch of high school stars loaded with "potential" and what's left of a senior class of collegians after most of the top players left early for the NBA.
"It changes every year," said Boston Celtics executive Red Auerbach, who coached the Celtics to nine NBA titles. "Some times there is one franchise player or two or three. This year, I wouldn't say there is any. I would say the first pick is no different than the fourth pick when you consider the two high school kids plus Shane Battier and Eddie Griffin."
As more top college players leave school early, it is less likely that a complete player will be available to immediately be a force, and more common that a promising youngster will need time to develop. Duncan may be among the last of a dying breed after playing four seasons at Wake Forest before being the league's top pick in 1997.
The first pick also can be a bust and cost general managers and coaches their jobs. The top choices can become answers to a trivia question: Who was the top pick in 1998? Remember Michael Olowokandi going to the Clippers? There also have been numerous NBA journeymen who never lived up to the hype such as Joe Smith, the first pick of the 1994 draft out of Maryland, and Pervis Ellison (1989, Sacramento).
This year's draft is convoluted by the lack of experience in the pool. Three high schoolers 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler, 6-11 Eddy Curry and 6-9 Kwame Brown are expected to go in the top five, along with 6-9 Griffin, who left Seton Hall after his freshman season. Shane Battier, an "ancient man" in the draft after graduating from Duke, calls the youngsters "IPOs" Initial Public Offering in the NBA market. It's definitely a speculative futures market.
"No one wants the No. 1 pick," one Eastern Conference general manager told the Toronto Sun. "No one wants to get it and take the wrong guy."
The Wizards reportedly offered the pick to Cleveland in exchange for point guard Andre Miller, and all indications are Washington would part with the pick for a fair offer.
It wouldn't be the first time a top choice was traded, although it is rare.
The last time the No. 1 pick was swapped was in 1986 when Philadelphia traded it to Cleveland for Roy Hinson. The Cavaliers clearly got the better of the switch by picking center Brad Daugherty, who became a regular NBA All-Star. In 1993, Chris Webber was taken with the first pick by Orlando and within minutes dealt to Golden State for Anfernee Hardaway, the third overall pick.
Auerbach pulled off one of the biggest coups in 1980 when he sent the top pick and the 13th overall selection to Golden State for Robert Parish and the third overall pick, which Boston used to select Kevin McHale. The Warriors chose Joe Barry Carroll with the first pick and Mississippi State's Rickey Brown with the later selection.
But without a franchise player this year, the choice does not have the market value of richer drafts. And while guaranteeing nearly $10 million dollars to the top pick is quite risky, there are considerable more scouting resources than in the past. Auerbach used to be opposed to drafting underclassmen, but said "times change."
"These guys develop much earlier than before," he said. "It used to be you would never see a big man that was coordinated when he was 18 or 19. It's gotten easier to evaluate now. It's gotten harder because there are more good players, but you have so many more scouts and sophisticated film and you work them out [in person] so many ways."
DeMatha High School coach Morgan Wootten has produced numerous NBA stars over his 45 seasons at the storied program, including Adrian Dantley, Adrian Branch and Danny Ferry. Another Wootten product, Joe Forte, who left North Carolina after his sophomore year, is expected to go in the first round tomorrow. Wootten has seen several of the prep players up close, and feels Curry, who weighs 285 pounds, is the most NBA-ready.
But he added the top prospects in this draft are so close "you can put them in a hat and pick one." There are plenty of big bodies and young minds with "potential" about to enter the NBA. But without a can't-miss, the top choice is not at a premium.
"It all depends on the year," Wootten said. "If there is a franchise player, it's worth a lot. If a Shaq or Duncan comes out, it's tremendous. This year, I don't think the value of No. 1 is that overwhelming."

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