Having been compared by its participants to everything from real estate investing to closet stuffing, the NBA's second annual draft lottery will take place Sunday afternoon in New York.
What was once thought to be a rather mediocre draft has been considerably bolstered by the addition of some noteworthy undergraduates. In declaring their desire to enter the NBA and forgo the remainder of their college eligibility, players such as Walter Berry of St. John's, Chris Washburn of North Carolina State and William Bedford of Memphis State have pushed some departing seniors into the recesses of the minds of player personnel directors and general managers. But they have not supplanted North Carolina's Brad Daugherty as the probable No. 1 pick.
The ultimate result, said one of those general managers, Pat Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers, is that "this will be a full first round; everyone will get someone of value, which rarely happens."
Williams can say that and smile, a direct result of his team's good fortune. In addition to having their own choice, No. 21, in the first round of the June 17 draft, the 76ers have a spot in the lottery, having acquired the first round selection of the Los Angeles Clippers in a 1979 trade for the long gone but not soon forgotten Joe (Jelly Bean) Bryant.
In another example of the rich getting richer, the Boston Celtics are also lottery participants, courtesy of their 1984 trade with the Seattle SuperSonics in which Boston gave up guard Gerald Henderson for the pick.
"Is that fair?" asked Celtics General Manager Jan Volk. "Sure it is; we traded a starting guard from a championship team and amid a great deal of criticism. We took the chance."
The other participants this weekend will be the Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Mavericks own Cleveland's pick but under an agreement made between the Cavaliers and the NBA, for the last two years Cleveland -- which traded away a number of first round selections under previous ownership -- has been able to buy a first-round draft choice one spot behind its original selection.
Because that has placed them in the lottery, the NBA added the proviso that the Cavaliers get the spot directly behind Dallas but can pick no higher than third overall. Some league executives don't like the special deal for the Cavaliers any more than they like such powers as the 76ers and Celtics trading their way into the lottery.
"Cleveland, talk about miracles," said Tom Newell, the Pacers' director of player personnel. "It's like the ugliest kid on the block still getting invited to the prom without an invitation."
Still, teams not in the lottery, like the Washington Bullets, have a shot at fairly good players this year.
"If we could make a trade we would," Bullets owner Abe Pollin said. "It's not easy and we don't have much of a shot, but I read there are more good players in the draft than there have been in a long time. If we can find a local player who's good and would excite the fans it would be a help."
One of the undergraduate entries is Michael Graham, the power forward who helped Georgetown to the 1984 NCAA championship. But listening to the evaluation of one of the league's better judges of talent, it's obvious Graham isn't the man Pollin has in mind.
"Graham is a third-round pick, maybe a second if some team has a lot of picks in that round," said one director of player personnel.
Then there's Len Bias, the all-America forward from Maryland. Bias, one of the few seniors not affected by the nine undergrads who have declared for the draft, will be long gone by the time the Bullets pick No. 12 or 13. And what Pollin says about the difficulties of moving into the lottery are seconded by Newell.
"First of all, they any team wanting to make a trade to enter the lottery would have to initiate the call," he said. "Then . . . it would have to be a major deal. The team with the pick would look in its closet and see what they have and then look in the closet of the other team and see what they have that you would want. You would either agree on all the attire or else just walk away."
Al Attles, the Warriors' general manager, said he's not so sure that trying to get into the lottery is the best thing for the nonparticipants. "There are a lot of big names in the lottery but suppose you make a deal for one," he said. "Marquee value may sit well for a year or so but not in the long run when your team starts to lose because you gave up too much to get the pick.
"And to get the pick you're gonna have to give and the teams with the picks are wondering, 'If the players you're offering are quality guys, why are you giving them up?' "
The initial lottery last May yielded two unforgettable images. One was the buildup over who would get to select Georgetown center Patrick Ewing. The second was the reaction of Attles when the Warriors -- the worst team in the NBA during the 1984-85 season -- wound up with the seventh pick.
Pat Williams of the 76ers said Attles looked "like he had been kicked right in the stomach." Newell added, "I shed so many tears for him last year that I don't know if I'd have any left if the same thing happened again."
This time, Attles said, No. 7 wouldn't be so bad.
"Not that I want to pick seventh or eighth, but it wouldn't be horrible," he said. "Last year the perception that it was 'the Patrick Ewing draft' was so great that if you didn't get him, the thought was you weren't getting any kind of outstanding player. This year there are more than eight impact players. We're one of the smallest teams in the league, we need defensive rebounding most of all. It's possible that we may not get our No. 1 guy but still come up with a good 7-footer."
The name most mentioned as the No. 1 selection appears to be Daugherty, a senior center. There have been questions about his toughness but that won't be as much of a factor in the pros, according to Milwaukee Bucks assistant Garry St. Jean, because Daugherty will move to power forward.
That a player expected to switch positions is regarded as the No. 1 choice illustrates the up and down sides of this draft. Without an immediately dominant player like Ewing, teams will truly have to address need and ability. Daugherty is a "safe" choice, said one general manager, because he's 7 feet and from North Carolina, "one of the most professionally run amateur programs in the country."
The wide-open field has NBA teams doing plenty of homework. Said one team official, "Nobody wants to draft a Kenny Green the Bullets' first-round choice last June who was traded to Philadelphia in January but failed to make the 76ers playoff roster . There has to be a sense that the guy can step in and contribute."
But, asked Williams, "How do you check out 10 guys? People talk about Bias and Chuck Person of Auburn , but who's to say that LSU's John Williams isn't going to be the best player of all of them?
"Teams are going to have to go back to the schools and check the kids' backgrounds, meet the parents, check out their personalities and character. Then after all that research, on the 17th they'll take a deep breath, make a pick and hope that they did the right thing."
Newell has little doubt that that will indeed be the case. "There are only one or two Lamborghinis but a lot of Cadillacs and 4x4s," he said. "These aren't million dollar a year players -- the most any first-round pick should expect to get is around $450,000 -- but this draft could have a lot of players like Clyde Drexler, Larry Nance and Dominique Wilkins emerge from it."