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Inside The NBA

The Jackpot
Landing the top draft pick instantly transforms the woeful

How does LeBron James help the Cavaliers? Let us count the ways.
Because he grew up 40 minutes away, in Akron, where he played at
St. Vincent-St. Mary High, he'll instantly turn moribund Gund
Arena into Cleveland's hottest spot; as a Magic Johnson-like
point guard he'll fill the team's most gaping hole; and his
presence ensures that the Cavs will be able to hire Jeff Van
Gundy or Paul Silas rather than some lesser light as coach next

Team insiders say that Van Gundy was interested in the Cleveland
opening before last Thursday's lottery, though owner Gordon Gund
had to reassure him that--despite rumors to the contrary--the
team is not for sale. The arrival of James only reinforces Gund's
desire to keep the Cavs: After enduring a five-year playoff
drought, he isn't about to unload the franchise now that it has
the most ballyhooed No. 1 pick since 1992, when the Magic drafted
Shaquille O'Neal.

The other jackpot winner in the lottery was Detroit. The Pistons'
disappointing performance in the Eastern Conference finals was
offset by their moving up from the sixth spot to the second with
a pick they obtained from the Grizzlies in 1997; Memphis could
have kept it only if it had turned out to be the No. 1 choice.
Then Detroit G.M. Rick Sund acquired the selection for power
forward Otis Thorpe, who was 35 at the time and demanding a
trade. "I always felt the way you get a high first-round pick is
to make a trade for one several years into the future," said
Sund, now the Sonics' G.M., who over his 29-year career has made
seven or eight such deals, including a couple with bungling
Cleveland owner Ted Stepien in the 1980s.

Dick Versace replaced Stu Jackson as the Grizzlies' general
manager in 2000, and two seasons ago he almost acquired a
first-round choice that would have satisfied Memphis's obligation
to the Pistons, thus allowing the Grizzlies to keep the No. 2
pick last week. Versace represented Memphis backstage as the
Ping-Pong balls went through the lottery machine, 95 minutes
before the results were announced on live television. It became
an agonizing bit of reality TV for team president Jerry West, who
sat on the stage having his hopes of landing the top selection
raised and then dashed--while Versace and other team, league and
media observers already knew the outcome.

Detroit must now choose between 6'8" freshman Carmelo Anthony, a
potent scorer who led Syracuse to the national title, and
17-year-old center Darko Milicic of Serbia-Montenegro, who would
ease Ben Wallace's burden up front. Detroit would seem to have a
greater need for Milicic, but G.M. Joe Dumars could also trade
the pick (and dump an unwanted salary) for a high-scoring
frontcourt veteran who could help the Pistons reach the Finals
next season.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS (JAMES) As a local hero and a potential Magic at point guard, James will give Cleveland a big lift.


scout's Take

On 7-foot, 245-pound Darko Milicic of Serbia-Montenegro:

"About one fifth of the people in the league I've spoken to feel
that Milicic will be a better player than LeBron James down the
road. They prefer Darko because of his toughness, his
competitiveness and the way he moves for a guy his size. He's
going to be a much better player in the NBA because over there
[with KK Hemofarm Vrsac] he plays in a very structured,
restrictive system. A lot of the guys who love Darko think he's
going to be a two-to-three-year project because he needs to
develop a back-to-the-basket game, but I'm guessing he'll gain 15
pounds and be productive as a rookie."