Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry isn't telling anyone whom the team plans to select with the 12th pick in Tuesday's NBA draft -- especially not the teams that will be choosing immediately before and after Washington.
"I read newspapers from other cities and those guys do, too," Ferry said. "Who we may be interested in is something I don't want other teams to know. I could say two or three names but they would probably be misleading. That's nothing personal; it's just a game that we (general managers) all play."
This season there is good reason. Unless you're a member of the New York Knicks' front office, there's no guarantee who will be chosen -- or when -- when the draft begins at 1 p.m. at the Felt Forum in New York. Even the Knicks, who are sure to select Georgetown center Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 pick, aren't sure whether to try to swing a deal enabling them to also get Chris Mullin of St. John's.
This season's draft has many good players but few likely to have the immediate impact of last year's first and third picks, Akeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. Only Ewing is in that class, although there are several other excellent players, like Wayman Tisdale, Xavier McDaniel and Detlef Schrempf.
They almost certainly will be gone by the time the Boston Celtics, NBA finalists and one of the league's traditional powers, select. The Celtics gave up a second-round draft choice to the Dallas Mavericks to move from the 24th position to 20th.
"People may say there's no difference between the player we'll get at number 20 or at 24 and I'm happy to let them think that," said Celtics General Manager Jan Volk. "I don't care who it is that we pick -- it will still be somebody that the Lakers can't pick, or the 76ers won't be able to have."
Given such views, Ferry's position is understandable. Last year began promisingly for the Bullets, then dissipated in a string of injuries. Now Ferry says the team needs "an all-around shoring up."
That's particularly true given the Knicks' potential acquisition of Ewing. Although Washington fell 10 games short of winning 50 last season, they beat the Knicks six of six times. That's unlikely to happen now, so how will the Bullets make up those games and pick up a few more?
"Ideally you want to pick a player who will come in and contribute immediately, but I'm not sure if that will be the case," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Part of that is because we're not exactly sure who will be there when it's our turn to pick."
Shue and the front office seem committed to changing the character of the team, moving away from the bulky, Beef Brothers motif into something more sleek, with more pure athletic ability along the lines of Cliff Robinson or Charles Jones.
Given the team's needs, that commitment would dictate a choice like Wichita State's McDaniel or the University of Washington's Schrempf, both good small forwards and both likely to be gone by pick No. 12.
"Maybe Schrempf will slide down, maybe Ed Pinckney (of Villanova) will slide down. We're really at the mercy of the teams picking before us," said Ferry.
But the Bullets have some idea who will still be on the board when their time comes. Without a number of major surprises, the biggest pool the team will have to choose from will be power forwards.
Although Ferry is quick to point out that the players are "very good athletes," some of the forwards are along the beefy lines of Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn.
According to most sources, the player that Ferry and the Bullets are looking at the hardest is Charles Oakley from Virginia Union University. In leading his team to a 31-1 record a year ago, the 6-foot-9 1/2, 240-pound forward averaged 24 points and 17 rebounds per game and was named the Division II player of the year.
Oakley also has performed well in the postseason against players from major colleges. In the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, he averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds in three games. In the Aloha Classic in Hawaii, he averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists a game and showed that he could run the court well.
"He's just too big, too strong, too good for anybody else to handle," said Hank Ford of Hampton Institute, who coached Mahorn in college.
Perhaps the only red flag regarding Oakley is that both Ferry and Shue have indicated the Bullets are interested in him. According to one NBA team's player personnel director, players not mentioned are more likely really the ones wanted.
"Everybody is assuming that we're thinking of Oakley, or Karl Malone (of Louisiana Tech) or Blair Rasmussen (Oregon)," said Ferry. "And I would think that maybe two of the three will be there when it's our turn to pick."
Some NBA scouts, including Ferry, have questioned Malone's rebounding ability, and Rasmussen might have improved his stock in the postseason so much that he might not be around when Washington picks.
Two names not mentioned by Ferry are interesting possibilities. There is a need for a backup center for Ruland, and some sources say the Bullets are looking at Bill Wennington of St. John's. Although he's 7 feet tall and 245 pounds, Wennington didn't average 10 rebounds a game last season and might not be aggressive enough.
Another player the team might have trouble passing up is Keith Lee of Memphis State. During his four-year career with the Tigers, Lee was thought of as one of the consistently best players in the country, yet his stock seems to have fallen during an NCAA tournament in which he was frequently in foul trouble.
Lee, 6-10, 220 pounds, might still be there at the 12th pick, although he was considered to be the No. 2 or 3 pick entering the season. "I'm not sure his stock has fallen; there have just been a lot of good players coming out early," Ferry said. "If he was good enough to be the number two or three pick last season he would have come out then."
Other possible selections by the Bullets include South Alabama forward Terry Catledge, Lorenzo Charles of N.C. State and Wake Forest's Kenny Green.