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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Never an Old Story When the Picks Begin

June 26, 2003|Mark Heisler

Once there was something called "college basketball," where players such as Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill became famous before going to the NBA, which reaped the benefit of all the promotion that went into them without spending a penny.

This is one reason Commissioner David Stern wants an age limit. However, the players' union opposes it, leaving the modern draft, which even some participants don't understand.

In reverie, the draft was once full of players who played four years of college ball and were ready for the pros.

In real life, there would be one every two or three years -- O'Neal, Hill or Larry Johnson -- who was not only ready to start but make a difference right away.

Now, no one is ready to make an impact, or close to it. The college game has been picked so clean, if the league barred teenagers, it would lose half the lottery.

It would be the top half too. Check today's projected top four:

LeBron James ... turned 18 in December.

Darko Milicic ... turned 18 six days ago.

Carmelo Anthony ... turned 19 four weeks ago.

Chris Bosh ... turned 19 in March.

Because the NBA game is still about players with size and talent, the selection process is all-important, but these days, even in a draft as deep as this one, some teams want out.

The result is comic. Pavel Podkolzine, an 18-year-old Russian who was projected to go in the top 10, stunned everyone by dropping out last week because no team would promise to take him.

Podkolzine had a pituitary problem and, although doctors said it was operable, there are no minor surgeries at draft time.

More to the point, after Cleveland, Detroit and Denver, everyone else was confused, or trying to trade their pick for that elusive "immediate help," or both.

No. 4 Toronto can have Bosh, described by one general manager as "not that far away from Milicic." But Raptor General Manager Glen Grunwald promised fans (and, presumably, his bosses) he'll turn last season's 24-58 disaster around and doesn't want to wait for the willowy Bosh to fill out.

No. 5 Miami went 25-57 and finished No. 13 in the East, but Pat Riley has had it with rebuilding and is telling his personnel people to find him a prospect or a trade that gets them back into the race this season.

No. 6 are the inscrutable Clippers, who weren't blown away by Podkolzine and, are not, you might have noticed, in the guarantee business, anyway.

No. 7 Chicago is in disarray. Rookie GM John Paxson was about to trade the wackier of his point guards, Jamal Crawford, when the other one, Jay Williams, ran his motorcycle into a telephone pole. The Bulls' best-case scenario has Williams missing one season, but that still means waiting two years to see if he can get beyond his disappointing rookie season.

No. 8 Milwaukee is a mess under George Karl and in the process of being sold, hopefully, to Michael Jordan.

No. 9 New York, which is dying for size with Antonio McDyess' return uncertain, is in standard chaos.

No. 10 Washington is trying to put the pieces back together after its adventure with Jordan. Now-retired GM Wes Unseld and newly hired Coach Eddie Jordan are calling the shots, with lame-duck Jordan retainers Rod Higgins and Fred Whitfield still technically working there.

Despite the prospects' tender ages, this is a deep draft, with several big ones (Milicic and Maciej Lampe, who may both go in the top five) and a horde of point guards (T.J. Ford, Kirk Hinrich, Reece Gaines, Luke Ridnour and Marcus Banks, all expected to go in the top 16.)

The situation is always fluid the day before the draft, but never like this one. Tuesday, insiders said Georgia's Jarvis Hayes was the Bulls' top choice at No. 7. Meanwhile, the Magic, drafting No. 15, brought in Hayes for a look, in a workout that didn't start until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Tuesday, the Raptors' new coach, Kevin O'Neill, sat in on a joint workout with the Knicks, who are offering Latrell Sprewell and their No. 9 pick for the Raptors' No. 4.

Nothing came of it, but they have until 4 p.m. this afternoon.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

First-Round Order

The first round of today's NBA draft.

Cleveland

Detroit

Denver

Toronto

Miami

CLIPPERS

Chicago

Milwaukee

New York

10. Washington

11. Golden State

12. Seattle

13. Memphis

14. Seattle

15. Orlando

16. Boston

17. Phoenix

18. New Orleans

19. Utah

20. Boston

21. Atlanta

22. New Jersey

23. Portland

24. LAKERS

25. Detroit

26. Minnesota

27. Memphis

28. San Antonio

29. Dallas

Round Two: The Lakers have the 32nd pick in the second round and the Clippers pick 34th.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

NBA Mock Draft

A look at Mark Heisler's predictions on where players will be taken in tonight's draft:

NO.; TEAM; PLAYER; HT; WT; CLASS; LAST YEAR'S TEAM

1; CLEVELAND; LeBron James; 6-7 1/4; 245; -- ; Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High

Now all he has to do is live up to the greatest hype ever.

2; DETROIT; Darko Milicic; 6-11 1/2; 250; -- ; Hemofarm Vrsac (Serbia and Montenegro)

Says one GM: "Off the game we saw him, you'd consider taking him No. 1."

3; DENVER; Carmelo Anthony; 6-6 1/2; 233; Freshman; Syracuse

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