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When the Lotto Gives You Lemons . . .

By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

BRISTOL, Conn. Okay, it's not a night to celebrate when you lose to the Clippers and Grizzlies in anything, even a game of chance. A night that began with the promise of Blake Griffin ended the moment the Grizzlies moved from the sixth spot into the top three. You could have clicked over to "American Idol" right then and there.

Sure enough, the Wizards came away with the worst-possible result in the NBA draft lottery: fifth.

That means no Griffin, who could have become the power player the Wizards so desperately need. Finishing fifth means no Ricky Rubio, who could have become the true playmaking point guard the Wizards could have used to craft a more balanced offense. It means no Hasheem Thabeet, who could have been the defensive anchor the Wizards have been missing for years. It's awful to lose to the Clippers, who never know what they're doing, and the Grizzlies, whose owner cares only about not spending money.

But that ends -- I promise -- the negative portion of this column. I'm going to put on my Virtual GM hat here and tell you that there's potentially great news for the Wizards coming on or around draft night.

Seriously, there is.

Start with those very same Los Angeles Clippers, the ones who can't get anything right, the ones who in 1998 upon winning the lottery took Michael Olowokandi over Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. Let's just say the Clippers get it right this time and take Griffin with the No. 1 pick they secured Tuesday night in the lottery.

That means they'd have center Chris Kaman, center Marcus Camby, power forward Zach Randolph and promising young forward Al Thornton. The Clippers almost have to wind up keeping Kaman, Griffin and Thornton as their starting front line, which actually figures to be a good one.

That means Camby will soon be available. Actually, he was available at the all-star break in February. It also means Randolph, who can use his brawn to get you 20 points and 10 rebounds a game from the low block, will also soon be available. Randolph's no Boy Scout off the court, but he can supply the inside muscle the Wizards don't have. And Camby, while he isn't the offensive threat Randolph is, averaged 13 rebounds and 3 1/2 blocks a game just the season before last for Denver. Okay, Camby is 35. But youngsters don't win jack in the NBA and Camby's salary would come off the books in the free agent-loaded summer of 2010. If I needed, for salary cap purposes, to trade one of my own players or involve a third team or trade the overall No. 5 pick, I'd have my eye on Camby and the under-the-radar Steve Novak, a 42 percent shooter from three-point range.

Or just suppose that the Clippers, feeling they already have enough firepower in the front court, decide to trade down to get a veteran player or players? Well, maybe the Wizards can get involved that way.

The point is that the Wizards need a big man first and foremost and bigs are available.

Also, the thing this draft has in abundance is point guards. Watching the draft lottery last night in the ESPN studios, Magic Johnson, considering the Wizards' personnel and what they might pick up in the draft if they keep their pick, said, "Who's your point guard?"

My answer, of course, was, "Gilbert Arenas?"

Magic: "Okay, let me try this again: Who's your point guard?"

Okay, I get it. Arenas, which I've been saying for some time now, shouldn't be the starting point guard. It's one thing for me to say it; it's another thing for Magic Johnson to say it. If Magic says the Wizards should have a pure, set-up-his-teammates point guard to run the offense, I'm listening.

Jonny Flynn, the kid from Syracuse, looks like he might be a real point guard in the traditional sense, a facilitator. Tyreke Evans, the one-and-done kid from Memphis, is in this draft. Ty Lawson is in this draft. The kid I think has the most upside among the guards, Gerald Henderson, is in this draft. Jeff Teague, the blur from Wake Forest, is in this draft. I like all of them better than Brandon Jennings, who is also in this draft. The Wizards should move DeShawn Stevenson whenever possible, and that could be now if no power player is readily available.

Are any of these options as attractive as Griffin? Perhaps not.

Griffin looks to be a future all-star. Asked Tuesday night in an interview what he needs to work on most between now and the beginning of his rookie season, Griffin didn't hesitate. "My shot," he said. "I've been working on my outside shot, increasing my range." That's the only glaring weakness in his game and Griffin is smart enough to know it and industrious enough to do something about it without being prodded and begged.

It's really, really, really too bad the Wizards couldn't get lucky Tuesday night and win the lottery. And it's almost certainly too bad that Griffin, with all he has to offer, is going to wind up with the Clippers, who can never get anything right.

Even so, it's no reason for the Wizards to get that hangdog look on draft night. The Wizards didn't get lucky, but it doesn't mean they can't be resourceful and turn that No. 5 overall pick, bad as it is relatively speaking, into immediate and significant help.

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