The Washington Bullets will select either Michael Thompson of Minnesota, Marques Johnson of UCLA, Kenny Carr of North Carolina State, Tom LaGarde of North Carolina or Greg Ballard of Oregon as their first pick in the June 10 National Basketball Association college draft.
Just who the Bullets pick depends on the Buffalo Braves. Buffalo will pick third in the draft and the Bullets fourth.
Milwaukee, with the first pick, already has said it will take Indiana center Kent Benson. Kansas City, picking second, is expected to go for Houston guard Otis Birdsong. Buffalo is deciding between Thompson, a center and Johnson, a forward.
It is believed that the Bullets will take whomever the Braves don't. But they haven't ruled out LaGarde, Carr or Ballard.
The Bullets's general manager, Bob Ferry, and coach, Dick Motta, have studied Carr, Thompson and LaGarde and are scheduled to be on the West Coast next week, checking on Johnson and Ballard.
"When you pick as high as we are this year, you have to be sure not to make a mistake," Ferry said. "It's narrowed down who you'll draft, so you have more of a chance of study individuals. There is still a lot of work to be done, though."
When Ferry checks a player, the process involves talking to high school and college coaches, the player himself, his agent, teammates and opponents and anyone else who will help him make a determination.
With the draft only three weeks away, most teams have made known their needs and wants and now it is a matter of jockeying.
Thompson is a junior and has balked at the prospect of playing in Buffalo. He may choose to stay at Minnesota another year.
If that happens, the Braves would then turn to Johnson. He too, however, has said he doesn't particularly want to play in Buffalo.
Phoenix, picking fifth, wants Ballard. The Los Angeles Lakers, with three picks in the first round, are leaning toward Rickey Green as their first choice, the sixth pick overall.
Next come the New York Nets, who may take LaGarde, followed by Seattle picking Carr, Kansas City taking Knicks taking guard ray Williams of Minnesota.
Milwaukee would then take Ernie Grunfeld of Tennessee and Boston would take Walter Davis of North Carolina.
Other players likely to go early are Mike Glenn of Southern Illinois, Wesley Cox of Louisville, Bernard King of Tennessee, Cedric Maxwell of North Carolina-Charlotte, Ed Jordan of Ruthgers, Bob Elliott of Arizona, Wilson Washington of Old Dominion, Tate Armstrong of Duke and Glen Gondrezick of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Also highly regarded are Anthony Roberts of Oral Roberts, who scored 60 points in one game; Freeman Williams of Portland State, who scored 71; Rich Laurel of Hofstra, James Edwards of Washington, and Steve Puidokas of Washington State.
Times are hard in Indiana. The Pacers said they would trade Billy Knight, Don Buse or anybody to improve the team but they are now in danger of not having a team to improve.
Chairman of the board Bill Eason said the team has another $60,000 payroll to meet in another week and with no firm buyer in sight the franchise is close to folding.
"Just about all avenues are closed," Eason said. "Unless we can come up with something, I don't see how we can go much longer. I think the end would come within two weeks."
Former rock concert promoter Skip Chernov is still interested in buying the team and moving it to Providence, E.I. Chernov said he was sending a letter ot the Pacers saying his financial backers were willing to pay $3.3 million now and $1 million more in $200,000 annual installments for the next five years. Chernov said he is being advised by activist lawyer William Kunstelr and he wants to get former Providence star Marvin Barnes, now a Detroit Piston who is currently in a Rhode Island prison, to play for the team. ORDER OF 1977 NBA DRAFT
1, Milwaukee; 2, Kansas City (from Nets for Nate Archibald); 3, Buffalo; 4, Washington (from Atlanta for Leonard Robinson); 5, Phoenix; 6, Los Angeles (from New Orleans for Gail Goodrich); 7, New York Nets (from Indiana for John Williamson); 8, Seattle; 9, Kansas City; 10, New York Knicks.
11, Milwaukee (from Cleveland for Gary Brokaw and Elmore Smith); 12, Boston; 13, Milwaukee (from Buffalo for Jum Price through Chicago for Jack Marvin); 14, Atlanta (from Washington for Tom Henderson through Detroit for Dave Bing); 15, Los Angeles (from San Antonio for Mack Calvin); 16, Golden State; 17, Washington; 18, Golden State (from Buffalo for George Johnson through Houston for Moses Malone); 19, Portland; 20, Philadelphia; 21, Denver; 22, Los Angeles.