The Washington Bullets most likely will lose Dave Corzine, John Williamson or Larry Wright to the Dallas Mavericks when the National Basketball Association conducts its dispersal draft May 28.
Dallas, the first NBA expansion team since 1974, must pick one player from each of 22 teams.
Teams are allowed to protect eight players on their rosters. The teams must submit a list of protected players to the league Monday.
The Bullets will not disclose their list, but it is almost certain they protected Elvin Hayes, Bob Dandridge, Greg Ballard, Kevin Grevey, Kevin Porter and Mitch Kupchak. Jim Cleamons, Lawrence Boston and Ron Behagen most likely were unprotected.
That leaves four players in limbo: Wes Unseld, Williamson, Wright and Corzine. Only two of those players could be protected.
Unseld, 34, is contemplating retirement and the Mavericks probably won't be interested in him, even if he is available.
Wright is a free agent, but Dallas may not want to bid against another team for him.
Acting Dallas owner Norm Sonju is not a Williamson fan, which points to Corzine as the likely pick -- if he is left unprotected.
Under terms of the expansion agreement, Dallas must take one player from each team. The Mavericks then must honor whatever contractual arrangements the player had with his former team.
Therefore, Dallas may either pick the 22 best players or purposely select some low-salaried marginal players it has no intention of keeping.
Any player Dallas picks cannot return to his former team for at least one season, even if he is cut.
Because existing teams can protect eight players, there aren't many gems the Mavericks can pluck. They could possibly end up with such players as Lloyd Walton of Milwaukee, Mike Glenn of New York, John Lambert of Cleveland, Steve Mix of Philadelphia, Abdul Jeelani of Portland and Scott May of Chicago.
The Mavericks don't have a coach yet, with Dick Motta, Chuck Daly and Jack McKinney among the candidates. But they have said they won't trade high draft choices for veterans and they won't pick any players with "bad reputations."
They have the 11th pick in the first round of the June 10 college draft.
The NBA has made it tough for Dallas to build a winner quickly. The league also imposed some stiff financial burdens on the team which could keep it away from the free-agent market.
When New Orleans came into the league in 1974, existing teams could freeze only seven players.
Dallas had to pay $12 million to get into the league, $6 million down, and has to pay interest on the balance until it is paid off.
The free-agent market could still be the way for the Mavericks to go, though. If a team puts a free agent on its protected list, it will be awarded compensation if it loses him to another team. But if a free agent is left unprotected and Dallas takes him, the Mavericks do not have to give compensation.
Gus Williams and Fred Brown of Seattle, Rudy Tomjanovich and Rick Barry of Houston, Larry Kenon of San Antonio, Cedric Maxwell and Tiny Archibald of Boston, Tom Owens of Portland and Tom McMillen of Atlanta head the list of free agents.
"If we signed a couple of those guys, we could have the best expansion team ever," said Rick Sund, Maverick director of player personnel. "I don't know how many of them will be left unprotected, but I'm sure a lot of them would gamble that an expansion team couldn't afford a high-priced free agent."
Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry gave no indication whom he will protect. If Unseld retires, and the Bullets lose Corzine to Dallas, they would have no veteran center.
They reportedly are trying to acquire Marvin Webster from the Knicks, but the asking price is steep. There also is a strong possibility that Duke's Mike Gminski could be available when the Bullets make the 14th pick of the first round in the college draft. Either of those moves would make Corzine expendable, but the Bullets don't have the luxury of waiting until the last minute.