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Wizards seek best athlete available

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Don't expect the Washington Wizards to use the 16th pick in today's NBA Draft to procure the big man — that elusive combination of defensive marauder, low-post scorer and relentless rebounder — their fans so crave.

In fact, don't be surprised if the Wizards select a combination guard/forward today to throw into the mix of players they already have.

"We're looking at the best available player at the 16th pick, and no, we're not going to go big," was how team president Ernie Grunfeld responded to a question about toughening up the middle earlier this week. "We have some young big guys that can play. If Andray Blatche and [Oleksiy] Pecherov were in the draft today, they'd probably go in the lottery."

Blatche, a 6-foot-11 restricted free agent who was the 49th pick of the 2005 draft, is just 20 years old and showed signs last season of developing into a quality player if the Wizards are patient.

Pecherov, a 21-year-old Ukrainian, had a productive season playing in the Europe and was the best player on a team that lost in the finals of the Ukrainian league.

Both are now viewed as rotation players by the organization. As a result, there is a good possibility the Wizards will not draft a big man and instead settle on a player with perimeter skills.

According to at least two sources within the organization, the Wizards like Jason Smith, a 7-footer out of Colorado State. However, with Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas at center and Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison at forward, it doesn't seem likely Smith would see any playing time next season.

And so in recent days the Wizards have been connected to other players in the draft. Most notable among them are Nick Young, a 6-6 combo shooting guard/small forward from Southern Cal; Thaddeus Young, an athletic 6-8 swingman with just one year of college experience at Georgia Tech; and 6-8 Kansas forward Julian Wright, who by most accounts will be off the board by the time the Wizards make their first of two picks. The Wizards also hold the 47th pick.

"I'm not sure what they are looking at," one NBA scout said, speaking anonymously. "I think they've got a good core of players together — they've made the playoffs a few times now. They've got a star [Gilbert Arenas], and they've got some good vets. That gives them somewhat of a luxury with that pick. The draft is deep, and they could get a guy there, probably will. The question is when will he be ready to help?"

The Wizards have eight players signed to contracts. The only regular in the rotation from the end of the season not signed to a deal is shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, who said he will opt out of the last year of his contract.

The Wizards aren't believed to have engaged in any significant trade talks, and they won't be the subject of rampant rumors until next season, when Arenas will opt out of his contract and Jamison will be a free agent.

Meanwhile, Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan and his staff will focus on adding a player to their roster tonight whom they believe will be a valuable asset.

"I think it's a good draft," Grunfeld said. "We pretty much have a feel for how things will go in the top 10 picks. We think that there is a group of six or seven players that will be available to us when we pick. I think we'll get a pretty nice player."

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