- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Washington Wizards got no lucky bounce in the NBA Draft lottery and will “explore all options” with the No. 5 pick in the June 25 draft, president Ernie Grunfeld said.

Those options include packaging the draft pick with a player or two, perhaps one with an expiring contract, and trading them for a veteran who would bolster the lineup. That’s what Grunfeld did in 2004 when he selected Devin Harris with the fifth pick and shipped him, Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner to the Dallas Mavericks. Washington got now-team captain Antawn Jamison in return.

Wizards coach Flip Saunders said Washington’s second-round pick (32nd overall) also could be attractive to opposing general managers. Early in the second round, he said, teams can still get talented players but don’t have to give them lengthy guaranteed contracts.

The Wizards, of course, could keep the pick and use it to bolster their collection of young, developing players.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good balance on our roster,” Saunders said. “I think like anybody, you always want to improve your guards position, your ballhandling position, with youth. I think right now with that you have to wait and see. But I can’t really say, ‘Geez, we need to go out and get that position.’ If you look at every position, we basically have a young player at every position backing up a veteran player, so I think we’re in a pretty good situation.”

Considering that, Grunfeld said, the Wizards approached the lottery hoping to get the top pick but weren’t despondent at missing out on a first or second overall selection. And given the flexibility they now have, the Wizards will evaluate their situation judiciously in the next 35 days leading up to the draft.

“Either way, we’re going to get someone who can help our team, whether we use the pick or if we trade it,” Grunfeld said. “If we keep it, there aren’t any real need areas, so we will draft the best available player that fits our situation.”

So who will be available at No. 5?

Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet are expected to go in the top three. That leaves Arizona forward Jordan Hill, Arizona State guard James Harden, point guard Brandon Jennings and Davidson guard Stephen Curry as possibilities for the Wizards.

Grunfeld and his staff have a good idea of what each player is capable of. Milt Newton, the club’s vice president of player personnel, spent most of last season traveling and monitoring the nation’s top prospects. Like Newton, Grunfeld and vice president of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard also have traveled multiple times overseas to see Rubio and Jennings, who played in Italy the past year.

The Wizards have begun holding predraft workouts, and such players soon will get the chance to display their skills. The decisions for Washington, however, are how to use the pick and, if the team does keep it, who fits best.

Jordan Hill

Year/position: Junior power forward

The skinny: The 6-foot-10, 235-pound Hill averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds for Arizona last season and is a high-energy, physical player who would bolster the Wizards’ front line. Strengths: physicality, athleticism, shot blocking, rebounding, good upside. Weaknesses: Man-to-man defense, passing skills, advanced post moves.

Why the Wizards would take him: Hill, who most analysts rank as the fourth-best player in the draft, would add much-needed toughness to a team with a reputation for being soft. He also would give Washington a true power forward to relieve Antawn Jamison considering that Andray Blatche bounces around along the front line and is plagued by inconsistency.

Why they wouldn’t: Perhaps the belief Saunders can help Blatche turn the corner and that he will flourish in his fifth season under the coach who helped develop Blatche’s idol, Kevin Garnett, would cause them to pass. Grunfeld and Co. also could decide to upgrade a backcourt in which both Gilbert Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson are coming off surgery and Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton still have some questions about them.

James Harden

Year/position: Sophomore shooting guard

The skinny: The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Harden is described as a crafty lefty who plays with aggression. Strengths: Knows how to create his own shot and get to the free throw line. Weaknesses: Midrange game needs work, and - some big knocks - he doesn’t have the greatest quickness or size and isn’t a strong ballhandler.

Why the Wizards would take him: Scouts believe Harden would make the perfect backcourt mate to Arenas, and he could be a good insurance policy to Stevenson, who was limited to just 25 games by a pinched nerve in his back that required surgery.

Why they wouldn’t: Stevenson might make a full recovery, and Young has shown promise that he will continue to develop at shooting guard. Replacing Stevenson in the lineup would rob the Wizards of their best perimeter defender, and Young got to play with Arenas in two games late in the season and fit in nicely with Arenas, Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.

Brandon Jennings

Year/position: Pro point guard

The skinny: The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Jennings elected to bypass college basketball last summer and play instead in Italy. Playing time has been scarce, and he was averaging 7.6 points and 1.6 assists in about 19 minutes through 16 games. As a senior at Oak Hill Academy, he averaged 35.5 points and 7.5 assists as the top point guard prospect in the nation. Strengths: Quickness and aggression and the discipline he gained from playing overseas. Weakness: Still needs to work on his jump shot to become a full-fledged threat.

Why the Wizards would take him: He would give them a pure point guard to back up Arenas. The Wizards liked the progress Crittenton made in his first full season with significant playing time but don’t necessarily see him as a true point guard. Jennings is seen as the top point guard prospect after Rubio, and even though he didn’t play much in Italy, league officials believe taking his lumps there benefited him more than playing college ball.

Why they wouldn’t: The Wizards already have an explosive backup to Arenas in Crittenton and expect continued growth from a player who showed great promise despite only joining the team in December. Jennings also could be off the board at that time.

Others worth considering: Southern Cal freshman shooting guard/small forward Demar DeRozan, Memphis freshman shooting guard Tyreke Evans and junior combo guard Curry.

The Wizards can afford to let these players develop, but with six young players in the versatile Dominic McGuire, forwards Blatche and Oleksiy Pecherov, center JaVale McGee and guards Young and Crittenton, it will be a crowded bench. The best bet might be pulling another 2004-type move.

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