- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Wally Walker finds this NBA Draft to be confusing.

Join the crowd.

"This is the most confusing draft that I can recall," the Sonics president tells ESPN.com. "I've talked with a lot of general managers, and they have all said the same thing."

The NBA tries to reinvent the wheel each June. A few teams get lucky. Most try to forget.

Long live the memory of LaRue Martin, the No. 1 pick in the 1972 draft.

At least one former executive, Jerry West, committed grand larceny in 1996, sending Vlade Divac to Charlotte in exchange for Kobe Bryant.

It didn't seem so one-sided at the time. Five years have a way of lending clarity to a draft.

Kwame Brown is up first in this draft, possibly anyway, coming from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga.

Brown is either the next Kevin Garnett or the next Bill Willoughby. The distinction is vast.

It is up to the franchise nursing two broken ribs to make the call.

The two broken ribs are irrelevant to the team's short-term plans, according to Doug Collins. He will tell you another one, too. It beats him how Richard Hamilton's name has surfaced in trade rumors. Hamilton is almost untouchable, which is pretty good for a player from a 19-63 team.

Shane Battier is the safe choice, if you're looking to land a future 10-year pro who gives good effort, good quotes and perhaps one or two appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. That is not a compelling endorsement for the No. 1 pick overall in a draft, which is the problem going into the debutant ball Wednesday night.

Teams in that position want a slam dunk and not a layup off the glass.

Battier is dropping by the hour, if not the minute, and being smart is no solace to being the incredible shrinking player of the draft. Battier stayed all four seasons at Duke, and both elements, the four seasons and Duke, are being held against him.

He is what he is, and Duke is what it is, and the specter of Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner is hard to cast aside. You say: What about Grant Hill? Even his luster is not what it was. He was hurt last season.

Four seasons at Maryland also did not help Terence Morris, who is being projected as a second-round pick. He would have been a lottery pick after two seasons, the recipient of a guaranteed contract worth a number of millions. Now he is looking at the NBA's minimum wage, which is not bad by working world standards but precarious enough.

To look at it another way, Keith Booth was a more productive player at Maryland than Morris. Booth lasted two uneventful seasons with the Bulls after being a late first-round selection in 1997. The size of his heart was not in doubt, as it is with Morris.

Talk is cheap, although the higher-ups of all 29 NBA teams are doing a lot of that at the moment, mostly to scare one another in the hope that the player of their dreams is still around at their turn.

You can't tell the potential top 10 picks, Battier excluded, without a detailed biography of each. The list comes out to four high school players, four underclassmen, one European and Battier.

Eddie Griffin is the two-sport athlete in the bunch, a fighter and a basketball player who, with one punch, undermined the Seton Hall season and sent Tommy Amaker to the warm embrace of Michigan.

So caution is advised, along with two crossed fingers.

DeShawn Stevenson is the latest neophyte to wave a yellow flag at the NBA. Unlike Griffin, Stevenson is a lover, not a fighter, who allegedly wound up looking for love in all the wrong places, notably with a 14-year-old girl.

The Jazz liked Stevenson enough to draft him out of high school last June. They don't like his dating habits, and even if he is innocent until he plea bargains, the NBA functions in large measure on perceptions.

The flavors of the moment promise to be a ball and chain, at least in most cases. Most top draft picks never look better than on draft night, with the exception of Steve Francis, who looked desperate at the mention of Vancouver. As it turns out, his body language was prophetic. Two years later, the NBA is leaving Vancouver.

Even the most well-crafted plans sometimes go awry, starting on draft night.

To borrow from Dan Rather: Courage.

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