The Washington Bullets traded Greg Ballard, who had been their team captain, to the Golden State Warriors late last night for a second-round choice in today's National Basketball Association draft, the Associated Press reported.

The trade gives the Bullets the 31st overall pick, in addition to drafting 12th in the first round. Before the trade, they had no second-round pick and the Warriors had two, the 31st and the 42nd.

The Warriors also sent the Bullets a second-round choice in the 1987 draft, Warriors spokesman George McFadden said.

Ballard, a forward, was graduated from the University of Oregon and had played for the Bullets since they signed him in 1977. He had started since his second season and last year averaged 13.1 points with 6.6 rebounds. He also was the team's player representative.

He had played out his option after the 1983-84 season. The Bullets signed him to a multiyear contract on opening day last season.

Today's first round, though, should remain a suitable sequel to the hours upon hours of staff meetings, countless rumors and last-second scurrying by the league's 23 teams yesterday.

New York Knicks center Bill Cartwright to Sacramento for Chris Mullin? Or Cartwright to Dallas for Jay Vincent and the No. 8 pick? A straight-up trade, George Gervin of San Antonio for World Free of Cleveland? Perhaps Atlanta, with the fifth pick, is willing to deal.

Those were just a few of the possibilities circulating around the NBA. And they might have an impact on the task at hand for most teams, which is to find the collegiate player who will turn their franchise around.

The Knicks apparently have done that by winning Georgetown's Patrick Ewing in the draft lottery last month. Beginning at 1 p.m. today, everyone else gets a chance.

The Bullets had kept a low profile for much of yesterday while trying to determine their choice with their pick in the first round. Most speculation among league sources prior to the trade suggests that Virginia Union power forward Charles Oakley is the Bullets' man, which is exactly why Atlanta General Manager Stan Kasten said the Bullets won't take him.

"Everyone knows how good Bob (Ferry, the Bullets' general manager) is at keeping his own counsel," Kasten said. "I've heard that they're going to take Oakley, Keith Lee (Memphis State), Bill Wennington (St. John's) or Kenny Green (Wake Forest). It won't be any of them. Rule them out. Cross them off your list. If Ferry told me someone that the team definitely wouldn't take, that would probably be the man I'd put my money on."

West of the Potomac, the team most interested in Washington's selection is the Utah Jazz, which picks immediately after the Bullets and effectively is at Ferry's mercy.

"Keith Lee is at the top of Utah's list, but the Jazz isn't sure if the Bullets are going to leave him alone," said a source in Utah. "They've picked behind the Bullets before, and it nearly drove them crazy trying to figure out what Ferry was going to do."

Ferry was unavailable for comment yesterday. Adhering to Kasten's theory, one could make a case for the selection of Lee by Washington. Ferry was on record early questioning the strength of the Memphis State forward, as well as the condition of his knees. Both Ferry and Coach Gene Shue mentioned his name only in response to direct questioning.

Lee was one of the most consistent four-year performers in NCAA history, never averaging fewer than 18.3 points and nine rebounds in any single season. The feeling in Utah is that Lee is a top five pick whose stock fell through a series of flukes. Lee still may be available late because of a weak knee and a perception that he may not be a smart player.

"There's a great number of questions about his knee," said one NBA general manager. "That's the down side to him, but it's obvious that he has a number of great skills."

So the speculation will go on until the first round starts this afternoon.

"Is today a busy day? Let me find someone who has a minute to answer that question," Kasten said. "I don't think I've spent a moment away from the telephone."

Several teams, Dallas foremost among them, have been angling to pry the No. 5 pick from Kasten and the Hawks. Kasten, in turn, has been trying to double his draft-day pleasure by trading for an additional choice in the top 10.

"A greater pleasure has never existed, trying to construct a trade that's singularly beneficial to the other team," Kasten said. "I must admit, I've done the same thing. People have told me that I've insulted them with my offers, which I consider to be a badge of honor."

The Milwaukee Bucks are in an almost-opposite position from Atlanta. Their first pick in the draft is the 22nd overall. Even so, things were far from quiet in Wisconsin. "No one is going to do much to get the No. 22 pick away from us," said Don Nelson, the Bucks' coach and director of player personnel. "But you watch a lot of film and talk to all the teams, mainly to try and separate the truth from all the blarney."

Nelson also had a little fun. He spiced his telephone interview with a number of whispered asides such as, "Send Manute (Bol) in now," and, "Will someone get Karl Malone on the phone please?"

Each request was made to an imaginary secretary.

"I don't think that we're going to be able to make a deal, but it wouldn't be for lack of trying," Kasten said. "We've talked with everybody but no luck.

"I really think the problem is the breakup of the phone company. Nothing in the country's been right since that happened."