By the time representatives from the 23 NBA teams meet this morning for the league draft in New York, there's a good chance they will have made decisions about which collegiate player will best suit their clubs.

But the decision of a team such as the Washington Bullets, picking 12th, could be determined by what the Phoenix Suns do with the No. 2 choice. That seems to be the major variable today; there's no doubt that the San Antonio Spurs will pick Navy center David Robinson first in the draft, but after that it's a tossup, as teams play coy or blatantly misrepresent their intentions.

Late last night the Bullets were still attempting to trade. One proposed deal that fell through was guard Jeff Malone and forward Jay Vincent to the Denver Nuggets for point guard Lafayette Lever and power forward/center Danny Schayes.

"We talked about a lot of things with a few teams that would have given us some scoring potential," said Pete Babcock, Nuggets director of player personnel. "Nothing materialized, but some things are still alive, and maybe something will be done sometime in the near future."

Another rumored deal would have brought Los Angeles Clippers point guard Darnell Valentine to the Bullets. During training camp before the 1986-87 season, Washington nearly had a deal with the Clippers, Valentine for guard Leon Wood, but it fell through. At season's end, Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry said he regretted that the trade wasn't made.

The best thing about the draft taking place is that teams will stop giving each other the business, which was the case all last week.

"Everybody's just lying to everybody else," said Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Brian Hill.

The Nuggets don't have a first-round selection, but they do have one of the league's most coveted players, Lever. Chances are that before the draft begins, the point guard will be part of a major trade.

"We don't want to trade him, but if it can improve our team, then no one's untouchable," said Babcock. "We've been talking with two or three teams seriously."

Most teams with multiple needs -- such as Washington -- would like to deal to fill one spot and then draft for another. This year, a surplus f forwards has made guards popular.

"There's only one super-duper, and that's Robinson," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "But outside of that it's a solid draft, especially with guys in the 6-foot-7, 6-9 range."

Just which of those players is best depends on whom you talk to. The Bulls have the eighth and 10th picks in the first round; one of them is likely to be North Carolina's 6-10 Joe Wolf, whom Chicago Coach Doug Collins has likened to "a poor man's Kevin McHale." That opinion probably isn't shared around the league, though.

Last week, each NBA team held its own mock draft, in which it tried to figure out other teams' plans in order to determine who would be available when the time came to choose. The process is much easier said than done, especially when one considers the amount of smoke the teams blow at each other.

Last season, the Bullets gave the impression far and wide that Pearl Washington of Syracuse was their man. New Jersey, picking behind Washington at No. 13, panicked, giving the Bullets Darwin Cook for the assurance that Washington wouldn't select Pearl. The Bullets then took John Williams, whom they wanted all along.

This year, the Seattle SuperSonics believe Nevada-Las Vegas forward Armon Gilliam would be the ticket to help overcome the Lakers.

Chances are he would be available as the No. 5 selection if Phoenix were to take Ohio State guard Dennis Hopson as a potential replacement for Walter Davis. That was the conjecture as late as last week, but now it seems the Suns will go for Gilliam instead. That would mean New Jersey takes Hopson instead of Georgetown's Reggie Williams, who likely would drop to fifth and go to Seattle.

If Horace Grant of Clemson is not among the first 11 chosen, look for the Bullets to grab him. They have expressed a great fondness for the power forward's game.

Then again, it could be just another smoke screen.


1. San Antonio

2. Phoenix

3. New Jersey

4. L.A. Clippers

5. Seattle

6. Sacramento

7. Cleveland

8. Chicago

9. Seattle

10. Chicago

11. Indiana

12. Washington

13. L.A. Clippers

14. Golden State

15. Utah

16. Philadelphia

17. Portland

18. New York

19. L.A. Clippers

20. Dallas

21. Atlanta

22. Boston

23. San Antonio