- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Washington Wizards, coming off a 25-57 season, suffered another setback last night.

Faced with the opportunity to improve themselves in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Wizards lost a little ground as the Los Angles Clippers bumped them from their most likely position (third overall) to the fifth pick in the June24 draft.

The Wizards, who finished with the third-worst record in the league behind Chicago (23-59) and Orlando (21-61), had hoped to have at least the third pick, considering their chances of moving up and getting the top spot were just 15.7 percent.

However, the Clippers, who were slotted for the fifth pick, leapfrogged both Washington and Chicago to earn the second spot. And while the Bulls fell to the third pick, the Wizards fell two spots because the fourth pick was guaranteed to expansion Charlotte, which did not participate in the lottery but will begin play next season.

“Obviously, everybody wants the number one pick,” said Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, who represented the team in Secaucus, N.J. “Traditionally, every year somebody moves up and somebody moves down. This year the Clippers happened to move up. Still, I think we can find a very good player at the fifth position. I think we can get a player there who will be an asset.”

Grunfeld said the top two players in the draft appear to be Connecticut forward Emeka Okafor and Georgia high school product Dwight Howard. Other potential top picks include Luol Deng of Duke and Shaun Livingston, a high school guard from Peoria, Ill.

Grunfeld said the fifth pick gives the Wizards some flexibility.

“If we want to trade the pick — and I’m not saying that we do right now — it gives us options,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll certainly entertain talks about potential trades; that’s what teams do. And if we hear something that sounds good, we’ll no doubt take a look at it.”

The Clippers had a 10.5 percent chance of winning the top pick and a 34 percent chance of finishing among the top three picks. They have never had much luck in the lottery although they have made a league-high 17 appearances in the 20 lotteries.

Orlando beat the odds as well, becoming just the second team in the last 14 years to finish with the worst record and receive the top pick. It was the third time in the last 13 years that Magic senior vice president Pat Williams has been on the stage and gotten the No.1 pick. Williams also won the lottery in 1992 and ‘93 with Orlando, and in 1986 with Philadelphia. The ‘93 pick was Shaquille O’Neal.

“They rolled the kid out again, dusted off the suit and said, ‘Go out and win one for the Gipper,’” Williams said jokingly.

Unlike a year ago, the draft doesn’t have a clear No.1 pick like LeBron James. But Williams didn’t seem to care.

“It’s huge and we’re not sitting here with Shaq or Michael Jordan, it appears,” Williams said. “Ninety percent of the time, I think it’s safe to say, that number one picks turn out to be very good players. More than anything, it gives our franchise a lift. We struggled through a really difficult period of time.”

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