Pat Williams thought he was the luckiest man alive. As the
general manager of the expansion Orlando Magic, he was ecstatic
after the Magic won the No. 1 pick in the 1992 draft lottery and
the chance to select center Shaquille O'Neal. A year later, even
though Orlando, which finished with a 41-41 record in O'Neal's
rookie season, had the slimmest chance of landing the top choice
among the 11 teams in the lottery, Williams beamed as the
Ping-Pong balls again rolled the Magic's way. This time he used
the first pick on forward Chris Webber, whose rights he then
traded to the Golden State Warriors for the rights to No.
3-selection guard Penny Hardaway and three future first-round
draft choices. The teaming of Hardaway with O'Neal instantly
transformed Orlando into a title contender. "We were set for the
next 15 years," Williams says. "And we had ordered championship
rings for 12 of those next 15 years. We had the brightest future
in the league."
But on July 18, 1996, the Magic's future became a thing of the
past. O'Neal signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles
Lakers, for $120 million over seven years, and Orlando received
nothing for him in return. The next decade suddenly looked
exceedingly bleak. "We put on a brave face last summer," says
Williams, now the Magic president, "but truthfully, we were
devastated. Maybe we were naive, but we didn't expect O'Neal to
When the 1997 draft is held on June 25 in Charlotte, the teams
will make their selections based on intensive scouting, private
workouts, psychiatric testing and background checks by private
investigators. Even so, if recent history is any guide, 40% of
the players drafted in the two rounds will be out of the league
within five years (chart, page 56). "In the end, you're still
guessing," concedes Toronto Raptors president Isiah Thomas, who
in the last two drafts has chosen guard Damon Stoudamire, who
became the 1995-96 Rookie of the Year, and promising
center-forward Marcus Camby, who lost some of his luster when he
was arrested on a marijuana possession charge last Friday.
Worse, all that scouting and scrutiny and educated
guesswork--and, in Williams's case, lottery good fortune--often
winds up counting for nothing. The reality of the 1990s is that
the draft is nearly irrelevant when it comes to building a
franchise for the long term.
Consider the drafts of 1987 through '94. Only two of the eight
No. 1 picks from those years remain with the clubs that drafted
them (chart, page 54): San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson,
a seven-time All-Star and the league's '95 MVP; and Milwaukee
Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, a mildly disappointing performer
whom the Bucks have considered trading. Also, of the first 10
selections from each of those drafts--a total of 80
players--only 17 have performed solely for the franchises that
drafted them. Of those 17, some have stayed put only because
their teams couldn't move them. The Sacramento Kings have been
trying for two seasons to trade forward Lionel Simmons and point
guard Bobby Hurley, their top picks in '90 and '93,
respectively, while the Washington Bullets have tried on and off
to deal their '93 first-round selection, guard Calbert Cheaney.
What's more, the rookie salary cap, implemented in 1995, enables
a player to become a free agent after his third season in the
league. Already, two members of the first rookie-cap class--the
No. 1 pick, forward Joe Smith of the Warriors, and the No. 2,
forward Antonio McDyess (who was traded by the Los Angeles
Clippers to the Denver Nuggets on draft day)--have said they
will not remain with their clubs after next season and would
like to be traded now. The No. 3 choice that year, guard-forward
Jerry Stackhouse of the Philadelphia 76ers, has been the subject
of trade rumors; and the No. 4 selection, center Rasheed
Wallace, was traded after his rookie season, from Washington to
the Portland Trail Blazers.
That movement is disconcerting to NBA officials, who believe
that a player remains more appealing to fans--and therefore more
of a marketing asset to the league--if he becomes identified
with a specific franchise. Part of the attraction of Larry Bird
and Magic Johnson was that each played his entire career with
the club that drafted him, as has Michael Jordan, so far.
But nowadays, as Thomas puts it, the draft is "merely the
beginning of a recruiting game." Once a team lands a prize
player, the front office and coach have to work to keep him
happy and to persuade him that his prospects and those of the
team will be bright if he stays put. "You have to communicate
with players now," says Thomas. "In a way it's good, because it
forces management to be more humane. But it's also bad, because
agents are back there manipulating these kids, and they can
really hold you hostage."
The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in this boat with
All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, the No. 5 pick in the 1995
draft, who can become a free agent in the summer of '98 or sign
a long-term deal with Minnesota on or after this July 1. The
continued success of the rapidly improving Timberwolves may well
be riding on his decision, because point guard Stephon Marbury,
a second-year player next fall who is Garnett's close friend,
will be in a similar position in '99 and isn't expected to
re-sign if Garnett bolts.
The Timberwolves seemingly have done everything right with the
6'11" Garnett, who jumped to the NBA out of high school. They
didn't showcase him during his rookie year as the team's savior
but gave him time to mature on the court and off it. They had
former Boston Celtics forward Kevin McHale, now Minnesota's vice
president of basketball operations, available to serve as
Garnett's personal guru. Then on draft day last June, Minnesota
traded guard Ray Allen, whom they had chosen with the No. 5
pick, to Milwaukee for Marbury.
Will that turn out to be enough to keep Garnett with the
Timberwolves? Or will the lure of a glitzier, big-market club be
too tempting to him? (Unlike other suitors, who will have to
deal with salary cap limitations in trying to lure Garnett from
Minnesota, the Timberwolves will have the advantage under league
rules of being able to pay any amount they want to keep him.)
"We feel very good about our chances of signing Kevin," says
McHale. "We've tried to allow him to succeed at a healthy pace.
We've provided him with a team that has a bona fide chance to
win the championship. If we haven't convinced him we're doing
the right things, that we're going in the right direction, then
this league is in a world of trouble."
McHale says that if Garnett doesn't re-sign this summer,
Minnesota must consider trading him. "We can't put ourselves in
a position where we've nurtured and developed a high pick and
three years later have nothing to show for it," he says. Free
agency isn't the only reason high draft choices hit the road.
Often, a team misjudges or mishandles talent. From 1987 through
'90, the Los Angeles Clippers' lottery picks were, respectively,
a No. 4, forward Reggie Williams, who was a bomb; a No. 1,
forward Danny Manning, who repeatedly asked for a trade and was
finally granted one, to the Atlanta Hawks, in '94; a No. 2,
forward Danny Ferry, who played a season in Italy rather than
don a Clippers uniform and was eventually traded to the
Cleveland Cavaliers; and a No. 8, Bo Kimble, who was a bust and
played only 105 career games before falling out of the NBA.
There are a few teams that have chosen well in recent years,
most notably the Lakers, who drafted three of their current
starters--forward-center Elden Campbell with the 27th pick in
1990, guard Nick Van Exel with the 37th pick in '93 and
guard-forward Eddie Jones with the 10th pick in '94--although it
was free agent O'Neal who made them contenders. Cleveland has
created a nucleus that includes guard Terrell Brandon (11th pick
in '91), forward Chris Mills (22nd in '93), guard Bobby Sura
(17th in '95) and forward-center Vitaly Potapenko (12th in '96).
Most general managers believe this year's draft pool is one of
the weakest in history--and worse classes are on the horizon.
The player almost certain to be taken first next week, Tim
Duncan of Wake Forest, is not only considered far superior to
the rest of his class but also might be the only topflight big
man available for the next several years. "People ask me who the
next great big man will be behind Duncan, and I'm racking my
brain to give them an answer," says new Celtics general manager
Chris Wallace. "I've been to all the major high school and
college camps, all the all-star games, and there's just nobody
out there. By default, teams are going to have to play small in
Unless a last-minute trade alters its thinking, San Antonio will
take Duncan with the No. 1 pick, adding him to a frontcourt of
Robinson and forward Sean Elliott. Such high-powered teammates
should provide Duncan with instant on-court gratification.
However, the Spurs are a small-market franchise in need of a new
arena. Like Garnett and Minnesota, Duncan and San Antonio have
two years to decide if their union will last a professional
As Pat Williams and Allan Bristow, the former coach and vice
president of basketball operations for the Charlotte Hornets,
will surely tell the folks who draft Duncan, enjoy him while you
can. When Bristow made forward Larry Johnson the first pick of
the 1991 draft and center Alonzo Mourning the No. 2 pick in '92,
he was certain his franchise was set for the decade. But in '95
Mourning determined he would not get his asking price from the
Hornets in future contract negotiations and demanded a trade.
Even as Charlotte fans voiced displeasure toward team
management, Mourning was shipped to the Miami Heat in a
six-player swap that brought the Hornets forward Glen Rice.
Beginning in December '93, injuries diminished Johnson's
effectiveness, and he was traded to the New York Knicks last
July for forwards Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus. "Charlotte did
it better than any of us," says Williams. "The Hornets were
vilified for trading Mourning, but they got an All-Star, Rice,
in return. That's all you can hope for. People ask why we didn't
do the same thing with O'Neal. I'm telling you, if we had
announced before the 1995-96 season that we had traded Shaq, the
city would have gone up in flames."
Charlotte has prospered despite its purges, making the playoffs
last season, it's first without both Johnson and Mourning. In
February, Bristow, who was fired by the Hornets in April '96,
moved to Denver to become vice president of basketball
operations of the Nuggets, who have the No. 5 pick next week.
His hope, despite past experiences, is to draft a franchise
player who will spend his career in Denver. "I'm optimistic,"
Bristow says. "I have to be. Otherwise, all this stuff we're
doing is purposeless."
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK The Spurs have first crack at Duncan (21), but he may be up for grabs again within three years. [Tim Duncan and others in game]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Chancey Billups]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Keith Van Horn]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Anfernee Penny Hardaway]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Adonal Foyle]
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBA PHOTOS [Tom Gugliotta]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Danny Fortson] TWO COLOR PHOTOS: ROCKY WIDNER (2) [Chris Webber; Todd Fuller]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [Austin Croshere]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN BIEVER (2) [Kelvin Cato; Jacque Vaughn]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Brevin Knight]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE [Glenn Robinson]
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH [Ed Gray]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [Bobby Jackson]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Thomas Hill]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Johnny Taylor]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [Marc Jackson]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Serge Zwikker]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB CHILD/AP [Gordon Malone]
OUR BEST SHOT
Here's an early line on how next Wednesday's NBA draft could
play out, provided trades--some possibilities are noted--don't
alter the selection order. (Washington forfeited its first-round
pick.) --JACKIE MACMULLAN
San Antonio won the draft lottery and will get to choose the
player who is head and shoulders above the rest in this year's
talent pool. (There was no truth to rumors the Spurs would trade
the pick to the Bulls for Scottie Pippen.) Provided that David
Robinson, who missed 76 games with a broken left foot last
season, returns to form, a front line of the Admiral, Duncan and
Sean Elliott should make San Antonio a power.
Philadelphia could use more size up front, especially if it can
find a team desperate enough to take 6'10" problem child Derrick
Coleman off its hands. The Sixers also might select point guard
Chauncey Billups because new coach Larry Brown would like to
move Allen Iverson to shooting guard, or Keith Van Horn, the
kind of multiposition player--and good citizen--Brown likes.
Boston needs players at every position, especially in the
middle, but it won't find inside help in this draft. The next
most pressing need is point guard, assuming free agent David
Wesley isn't re-signed, and Billups (above) looked impressive in
a workout in Connecticut. Boston will also consider taking Van
Horn and has explored trading its two first-round picks for
Denver's Antonio McDyess.
Vancouver will be happy to nab Daniels, rated by many scouts as
the best point guard available. Forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim and
center Bryant Reeves are the core of the Grizzlies, and they
need a playmaker who can get them the ball. At week's end
Vancouver was talking about trading the pick to the Nets for the
No. 7 choice and forward Jayson Williams.
Keith Van Horn
Denver needs a point guard, but if Billups and Daniels are gone
the Nuggets will address a potential shortage at forward.
McDyess can be a free agent next summer and is on the trading
block, and LaPhonso Ellis is a question mark because of an
Achilles tendon injury and his desire for a rich contract.
Denver loves the inside-outside game of Van Horn (left).
MT. ZION CHRISTIAN
See pick No. 3. With two selections this high, Boston can afford
to gamble on this raw, talented 18-year-old high school player.
He's no Kevin Garnett, but with proper nurturing and coaching he
has a chance to be a star somewhere down the road. The Celtics,
with no center to speak of, will also give thought to picking
Adonal Foyle in this spot.
New Jersey has several holes to fill, including point guard if
it doesn't re-sign Sam Cassell. Given the point guards
remaining, the Nets should take the best player available. The
rap on Thomas: a questionable work ethic. But coach John
Calipari has enough confidence in his motivational ability to
grab an obvious talent, whatever his psychological shortcomings.
If McGrady is available he will get a look, as will Ron Mercer.
Golden State is looking for a big man, and Foyle (left), who
played against modest competition in college, is intriguing. He
has been described as a poor man's Dikembe Mutombo because of
his acute defensive instincts--he holds the NCAA record for
career blocked shots--and raw offensive skills. If the Warriors
decide not to gamble, they could make the safer play by taking
Toronto is unhappy to be drafting this low and would rather
trade the pick to save the first-round money, but at week's end
it hadn't heard an offer that it liked. Unless Foyle falls this
far, the Raptors can't pass on Mercer--even though his former
coach, Rick Pitino, now with the Celtics, will have done so twice.
With Sherman Douglas entering the final year of his contract and
about to turn 31, Milwaukee would like to take someone at his
position, point guard. But this is too high for Brevin Knight to
go. The Bucks were curious about McGrady, but he declined to
work out for them. Fortson (left), despite inconsistent play, is
the pick over Maurice Taylor and Austin Croshere.
Sacramento could use help at the point but doesn't see anyone
who fills the bill. The Kings also want to get bigger and more
athletic, so the 250-pound Taylor is the choice. He'll serve as
insurance in case power forward Brian Grant, a free
agent-in-waiting, decides to take his game elsewhere.
Indiana wants a small forward and continues to try to trade for
the Warriors' Chris Mullin, but new coach Larry Bird also loves
Croshere (above). The assessment was that No. 12 might be too
soon to take him. That was before teams picking before the
Pacers began working out Croshere and liking what they saw.
Indiana will explore a trade down.
Cleveland needs to get bigger, but the thin crop of centers
makes Anderson the pick. He had surgery to repair a torn ACL in
his right knee last season, but his predraft workouts didn't
raise any medical red flags. Also, guard Bobby Phills is going
to be a free agent after this season, and Cleveland may not want
to break the bank to keep him.
Cato didn't perform well in some postseason workouts, but L.A.
coach Bill Fitch realizes that size is at a premium this year
and at least Cato (below) has that. If Taylor or Fortson is
still available, the Clippers will probably go after one of them
SAN JOSE STATE
After its roster purge of last season, Dallas is starting over
again, and small forward is one of its pressing needs.
Saint-Jean's stock soared at the predraft camp in Chicago, where
he showed skill and hustle--a rare combo these days. General
manager Don Nelson wants the Dallas locker room to be pristine,
and Saint-Jean, a Frenchman, would be une bonne addition.
Cleveland did well with its European choice last season:
Forward-center Vitaly Potapenko is on his way to becoming a
valued part of the Cavs' nucleus. Scouts are split on whether
Milic, a 20-year-old shooting guard who averaged 14 points a
game for Smelt Olimpija, is ready for prime time.
New coach Chuck Daly believes Penny Hardaway's talents will be
best used at off-guard, so Vaughn (above) is a suitable pick at
the point. If Orlando decides to go for a big man, however, Marc
Jackson might be the man.
18 Trail Blazers
Portland wants to play an up-tempo game and wouldn't mind having
another water bug behind guard Kenny Anderson. Although his
diminutive stature scares some NBA teams, Knight (left) would
seem to be a nice fit with the Blazers.
Detroit needs to move disgruntled power forward Otis Thorpe and
get a center, two things it hopes to accomplish with one trade.
The Pistons have talked to the Hornets about getting 7-foot Matt
Geiger for Thorpe. The Pistons would rather trade this pick,
too. If that doesn't happen, Gray (above) will bolster an
already strong backcourt.
20 Trail Blazers
7 feet, Center
Like most other teams, Portland covets size, and since Chris
Dudley opted out of his contract last week and will be asking $5
million to $6 million per year, the selection of Grant to learn
behind pass-master Arvydas Sabonis isn't a bad idea. The Blazers
will also consider Serge Zwikker and Marc Jackson.
After trading 7'6" Shawn Bradley to the Mavericks and realizing
the limitations of center Eric Montross, New Jersey brought in
all big people to audition for this draft slot. Pollard, a
college pivotman who's an NBA power forward, could provide
insurance if the Nets deal Jayson Williams, who has made it
clear he wants out of New Jersey.
Atlanta needs a guard and a small forward, and it also hopes to
get Mullin in a trade. Anthony Parker or 6'9" forward Jerald
Honeycutt from Tulane are also possibilities, but Jackson (left)
tested out as a hard worker who wants to play defense.
Seattle wants a player who will run and press and agitate
opponents, which Taylor (below), a small forward, is happy to
do. Depending on how Shawn Kemp's demand for a trade pans out,
the Sonics could soon be shopping for a power forward, but one
with impact can't be found in this draft.
Houston, average age 31.0, needs to get younger. The Rockets
think a healthy Brent Price plus Matt Maloney and Emanual Davis
can handle the point. The fact that Parker does a lot of things
well but none exceptionally has scared off some teams, but not
What New York really wants to do is trade this pick. The Knicks
are carrying three forwards--John Wallace, Walter McCarty and
Dontae' Jones--from the 1996 draft, so the last thing they need
is to take another young player who needs time and work.
Coach Pat Riley says he'd like to find a slashing player like
guard Dan Majerle, an adequate point guard to back up Tim
Hardaway and a monster body to sub for Alonzo Mourning. Pretty
ambitious wish list for the 26th pick. Riley goes for the big
Most of all, Utah needs someone to stop Michael Jordan. Oh, too
late for that? So it's time to find youngsters to play behind
veteran forwards Karl Malone and Antoine Carr. A new Malone
(right) is what's left on the board.
7 feet, Center
Until owner Jerry Reinsdorf decides whether to dismantle the
champions or keep them together for one more season, Chicago's
future is in flux. Regardless, the Bulls are notorious for going
big when they pick this late, and in Anstey they have a project
who won't object to a year or two of seasoning overseas.
DRAFTING THE HARDAWAY
Sometimes it can take years--not to mention a few personnel
moves--before the final verdict can be reached on the wisdom of
a team's choices in the NBA draft. Consider the Golden State
Warriors' first-round pick in 1993, and the developments that
With the third overall pick the Warriors select PENNY HARDAWAY
(left), then immediately trade his rights plus three future
first-round picks (1996, '98, 2000) to the Orlando Magic for the
rights to CHRIS WEBBER (the No. 1 overall pick). Hardaway
becomes a three-time All-Star for the Magic.
Webber averages 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds to win 1993-94 NBA
Rookie of the Year honors but feuds with Golden State coach Don
Nelson and demands a trade. The Warriors oblige Webber, shipping
him to the Washington Bullets for forward TOM GUGLIOTTA (right)
and three first-round draft picks (1996, '98 and 2000). Though
often injured, Webber has averaged 20.5 points and 9.8 rebounds
in his three seasons in Washington.
In 40 games with the Warriors in the '94-95 season, Gugliotta
averages 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists, but Golden
State trades him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward
DONYELL MARSHALL (right), Minnesota's first-round pick in 1994.
With the Timberwolves in 1996-97, Gugliotta averages 20.6
points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and goes to the All-Star
With one of the first-round picks acquired from the Bullets, the
Warriors draft center TODD FULLER.
In 1996-97 the Warriors finish 30-52 and miss the playoffs;
Marshall averages 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, and Fuller
averages 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds. At week's end the Warriors
retained those 1998 and 2000 first-round picks acquired in the
THE FIRSTS DON'T ALWAYS LAST
Do you think that having the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft
brings a cornerstone for long-term success? Think again. None of
the six players selected first overall from 1988 through '93
remains with the club that drafted him, and the top pick in '95,
Joe Smith of the Warriors, recently asked to be traded. Here's
the history of the last 10 players to go No. 1.
David Robinson, Spurs
Still with San Antonio
Danny Manning, Clippers
Traded to Hawks, 2/24/94; free agent signed by Suns, 9/3/94
Pervis Ellison, Kings
Traded to Bullets, 6/25/90; free agent signed by Celtics, 8/1/94
Derrick Coleman, Nets
Traded to 76ers, 11/30/95
Larry Johnson, Hornets
Traded to Knicks, 7/14/96
Shaquille O'Neal, Magic
Free agent signed by Lakers, 7/18/96
Chris Webber, Magic
Traded to Warriors on draft day; traded to Bullets, 11/17/94
Glenn Robinson, Bucks (left)
Still with Milwaukee
Joe Smith, Warriors
Still with Golden State
Allen Iverson, Sixers
Still with Philadelphia
Being drafted by an NBA team has been compared to holding a
winning lottery ticket, but for many players, such as Thomas
Hill of Duke (left), it can also be a quick ticket out of the
league. Here is the pattern of attrition for draftees over the
last five years. (A player unsigned by the team that chose him
is considered to have been cut the year he was drafted.)
NUMBER OF PLAYERS CUT BY NBA STILL IN
YEAR DRAFTED '92 '93 '94 '95 '96 '97 THE NBA
1992 54 6 1 4 4 4 3 32
1993 54 -- 10 4 3 3 1 33
1994 54 -- -- 6 3 7 2 36
1995 58 -- -- -- 8 5 4 41
1996 58 -- -- -- -- 15 1 42