- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Washington Wizards know their chances of winning today’s draft lottery and the right to draft the top pick are slim — 14 in 1,000, to be precise — but that doesn’t always spell doom.

By virtue of finishing the season 37-45, the Wizards are in line for approximately the 10th pick in the June26 NBA Draft.

Should they get lucky and move into one of the top three slots, they would get the chance to draft either LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Darko Milicic, the players generally regarded as the top three.

According to the lottery rules, the top three picks are determined through the drawing. After the top three picks are established, the remaining 10 teams in the lottery are determined in descending order according to their record — worst to best. In the case of the Wizards, who have the 10th most balls in the lottery, they could earn one of the top three picks or 10th or lower. They cannot not earn the fourth through ninth picks.

James, a high school senior at St.Vincent-St.Mary in Akron, Ohio, is a 6-foot-8, 240-pound swingman many consider to be the best high school prospect ever. He is the most obvious top pick since San Antonio snatched Tim Duncan No.1 in 1997.

However, because of the continued influx of foreign players and high school players making the leap to the pros, the draft is an inexact science. Teams draft potential as much as talent and no one knows exactly what kind of player they have until years after the draft.

The best illustration of this is 1996, the year Philadelphia drafted Georgetown’s Allen Iverson with the top pick. It’s obvious things worked out for the Sixers with that pick, but perhaps most interesting about that draft is the career course of players drafted 10th and lower.

Indiana drafted center Erick Dampier No.10 overall, and Dampier has been an ordinary pro. The same can not be said for a number of players selected after him.

Kobe Bryant was taken by Charlotte at No.13, and Predrag Stojakovic went to Sacramento with the following pick. Phoenix tabbed Steve Nash — now a star for Dallas — with the 15th pick, and Jermaine O’Neal, generally recognized as the top power forward in the Eastern Conference for Indiana these days, was selected No.17 by Portland. Bryant, who was traded to the Lakers on draft day, has led Los Angeles to three championships while Stojakovic, O’Neal and Nash all have been All-Stars.

“You can help your team with the 10th pick,” Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said. “We’re hoping we can get a nice player if we stay at No.10. It would be nice if we could move up and get the top pick. Who wouldn’t want that? We’ll just have to see what happens.”

The Wizards had the top pick in 2001 and selected Kwame Brown out of Glynn Academy High School in Brunswick, Ga. Brown was believed to be a player on which the Wizards could build their future, but the team is still waiting for the 6-11, 245-pounder to show he is ready to start. So far he has been a disappointment, starting just 23 games and averaging 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds over his two seasons.

However, as much as the lottery is crucial to the Wizards’ future, the team still has more pressing issues.

For starters, they have not found a replacement for Unseld, who will have both of his knees replaced and will go on an extended leave of absence following the draft. Although the organization is keeping a tight lid on who they are considering, one league source said the Wizards appear to be interested in New Jersey Nets director of scouting Ed Stefanski. Atlanta and Portland are also said to be interested in Stefanski.

One league source said the Wizards may have trouble filling that spot because of the way they sent Michael Jordan packing rather than returning him to his old job as president of basketball operations.

“It could be hard to attract free agents there,” the source said.

Another name that has been mentioned in connection with the Wizards is recently fired New Orleans coach Paul Silas. However, a source with knowledge of the situation said Silas is more interested in “just coaching” than he is in running any team’s basketball operations.

The Wizards reportedly told coach Doug Collins he will be retained at least until the draft. It is believed that by that time the Wizards will have settled on a president of basketball operations and Unseld will be in the background.

It is unlikely, according to a league source, that Collins — who still has two years and a guaranteed $10million remaining on his contract — will be retained.

If the Wizards must replace Collins, top names include Silas, New Jersey assistant Eddie Jordan and former New York coach Jeff Van Gundy.

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