Lottery is a Crap Shoot

Lottery is a Crap Shoot

June 24, 1998

The Clippers are in control of the 1998 NBA draft. Is there any wonder why things are out of control? Karl Malone likes to go driving with a state cop. The Clips prefer Mr. Magoo. No one is sure what Donald Sterling's brain-dead brain trust will do, but you can be sure that down the road, it either will be the wrong choice or it will bring a calamity on the franchise. That's the Clipper Way. Go back to 1988, the last time the Clippers controlled things. They had the first pick, just as they do today. They actually did the right thing and drafted Danny Manning. You already know that story.

A holdout. A torn anterior cruciate ligament after only 26 games as a rookie. Traded to Atlanta for Dominique Wilkins. Amazingly, despite their tortured history, the Clippers managed to go another decade before again securing the first pick overall. They've blown other big ones - they wouldn't be the Clippers if they hadn't - but now they've come to the dilemma facing every team: two players at the two most critical positions, one developed (by current NBA standards, anyway) and one who is, as they say, getting there (again, by current NBA standards). All we know is that the player will be named Michael.

Sterling likes names and he likes local heroes. Mike Bibby, to a certain extent, is both. He is a name with an NBA pedigree. Papa played in the NBA and at UCLA (even more important) and coaches at Southern Cal. Bibby fils has worked out nowhere else, per order of his agent, David Falk. The omnipotent Falk wants Bibby in Los Angeles. Sterling and Falk dined yesterday; what do you think they talked about? And why would Falk even bother if he knew the Clippers were committed to Bibby? The Clippers face the dilemma of either crossing Falk or caving in to him.

Michael Olowokandi, meanwhile, has risen faster than mercury on a hot day and was getting a lot of votes in mock drafts for the No. 1 pick. Ordinarily, the Clippers wouldn't consider Olowokandi because they have Ike Austin on their roster. But Austin is a free agent, and the Clips have yet to hold on to a single free agent of note. You don't hear the Clippers mentioned when the topic turns to "Future Homes of Ike Austin."

Yet who knows when the next big man will surface? We all thought Tim Duncan was the last one. Now along comes the Kandi Man. They aren't comparable in skill, but no one doubts that Olowokandi can be a top 10 center within several years. How can you turn away from that?

Watching all this with more than passing interest is Vancouver, which has been getting offer after offer for the No. 2 pick. Those offers have more contingencies than a real estate deal; almost all are based on the assumption that the Clippers will take Bibby. We even hear that the Celtics have dangled Ron Mercer and their own choice.

If the Clippers do take Olowokandi, there's a chance Vancouver might pass on Bibby, even though the Grizzlies need a point guard. They also need a power forward and a shooting guard and believe the talented Paul Pierce is the latter. Not drafting Bibby would also cover the rear end of general manager Stu Jackson, who drafted flameout Antonio Daniels last year at No. 4. Daniels made Chauncey Billups look like Gary Payton.

After that, we know only the names of the next handful of players. They are being slotted, reslotted, and slotted again in a wacky game of musical chairs. Pitino wasn't kidding when he said the No. 10 pick could turn out to be as good as the No. 1 pick. The No. 10 pick could be the No. 1 pick. Well, not quite. But you get the picture.

"It's a unique draft," Pitino said. "Normally, you know 1 through 5 or 1 through 8. But 10 could be as good as 1 and 12 could be as good as 2. I see a big drop-off after 13." There has been a lot of trade talk, including an interesting one yesterday that had the Lakers offering Nick Van Exel to Boston, even up, for Travis Knight. LA's thinking was that it could dump the unwanted Van Exel as well as reclaim Knight's faltering career. The Celtics would be rid of Knight's contract and could either reroute Van Exel or keep him; he has only one year left on his contract. Boston apparently did not want to do the deal.

A lot of trade possibilities will be blunted by cap reality: Only a couple of teams (Toronto, the Clippers) have any real cap room to absorb contracts in return for just a pick. (Vancouver, for instance, has little cap space.) Most of the teams who envision having cap room won't have it until July 1, when David Stern will drop the lockout hammer and the nuclear summer will begin.

The Celtics have been trying to unload any or all of their many inedibles, packaging them with something enticing (Antoine Walker was thrown into at least one proposal) to make the other guy bite. No one has yet. Pitino said Monday there was only a 15 percent chance he'd move the pick. If he does, remember he also said there was a 10 percent chance he'd move Walker.

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