Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Despite the perceived depth of the tomorrow’s NBA Draft, new Washington Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld says the player he selects with the 16th pick probably will help the team later rather than sooner.

“It’s very seldom you get a player at 16 that is going to come in and help you right away,” said Grunfeld, who yesterday received his new title as part of an ongoing reorganization within parent company Washington Sports and Entertainment. “The picks that usually help a team are the top five through eight, and those teams are not playoff teams.

“When you are a veteran playoff team and you have the core of your team coming back, it’s going to be difficult for any player picked in the late teens to come in and break the lineup.”

Beginning June 7 and continuing through yesterday, the Wizards have worked out close to 50 players as they prepare to pick 16th and 47th tomorrow.

Grunfeld, who doesn’t put much weight in the workouts, said the team worked out players who could be available at both picks and players whom the team will bring in as free agents next month.

With the 16th pick, the Wizards have honed in on a group of players that includes power forward Jason Smith of Colorado State and shooting guard Nick Young of Southern Cal. They are also believed to be interested in a pair of players from Georgia Tech — 6-foot-4 point guard Javaris Crittenton and shooting guard Thaddeus Young.

The bottom line for the Wizards — who haven’t ruled out trading either up or down, Grunfeld said — is that if they stay put in the first round, they are dependent on what the other 15 teams ahead of them do with their picks.

“You never know what direction you will go in ahead of time because other people will determine what direction we are able to go,” Grunfeld said. “The people in front of you determine what’s left for you. We’ll be prepared for all the scenarios, and we’ll take the player that we feel is best for us not only today but also down the road.”

The Wizards, who made the playoffs the last three seasons, would like to select a physical, low-post player with skills on both ends of the floor. However, to do that, they probably would have to trade up into the top six, where they might be able to land Florida’s Al Horford or Chinese big man Yi Jianlian.

Moving into the top two, where Ohio State’s Greg Oden and Texas’ Kevin Durant are expected to be drafted, is out of the question.

What can’t be ruled out in the draft is its unpredictability.

In 2001, Brendan Haywood was selected 20th by the Cleveland Cavaliers and later traded to the Wizards. But Tony Parker, the MVP of the NBA Finals, was selected with the 28th pick by the San Antonio Spurs. At the beginning of the second round, the Golden State Warriors selected Gilbert Arenas with the 31st pick.

Overall, Grunfeld likes the quality of the draft. He said he has a pretty good idea who the top 10 players will be, and he thinks there is a good chance the Wizards will fill a need with their first selection.

“It’s a good draft overall. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into evaluating it,” he said. “When we pick, we think there are going to be six or seven very good players available to us.”

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