I've been trying to figure out why Washington is so juiced for the NBA draft, why the rich and famous from all over the league are throwing major bashes here tonight, why every hairdresser east of Rock Creek Park is overbooked, why more than 11,000 people have purchased tickets to sit in MCI Center and watch what amounts to a surprise roll call.

It must be to celebrate that the Washington Wizards actually have a first-round draft pick. And because this is about the closest we've been in 20 years to NBA drama in June.

As it should be in the city that gets so wrapped up in coverups, obstruction and investigation, we have plenty of suspense, compliments of Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause, a cross between Maxwell Smart and Mini-Me. This is a man who would like to believe he can keep sunrise a secret, so you can imagine how much he enjoys controlling the top pick of the entire draft. This drama is made even juicier because there's no Tim Duncan in this year's talent pool, no absolute, bet-the-ranch star in the whole bunch. Just maybes, guys with upside, teasers. Guys who make you close your eyes and try to imagine how they'll fit in a few years, like that picture you're not sure will go well in the living room after the novelty wears off.

But, hey, don't expect Krause to let go of his moment; you think for one minute he doesn't love holding the draft hostage? Guess-along-with-Jerry is not a parlor game, it's torture. Folks in a position to know say that Krause hasn't even told his coaches exactly what he plans to do.

So, heaven only knows who'll be available when the Wizards go on the clock to pick seventh. You know the last time the Bullets/Wizards had a first-round pick? It was 1995 and they chose Rasheed Wallace.

This, however, could be an unlucky No. 7.

You're into the shallow water real quick in this pool.

Just about everybody sitting in that green room has an asterisk next to his name.

Elton Brand's a fine fellow, the kind of young man you want to have over to your house regularly for dinner. Good worker, great hands. But I was watching ESPN the other night when Gary Miller had Richard Hamilton measure Brand, and the tape said 6-5 1/2 or something close to that. I'm still trying to figure out if that was a joke. Unless his name is Barkley or Unseld, I like my inside players to be a little taller than the point guard.

Steve Francis is a spectacular talent, but he's never served as the primary playmaker at a high level; at Maryland, remember, he played shooting guard.

Corey Maggette would have had a shot at being the best player in college basketball next year; but after only one year at Duke, I'm wondering if he'll be Marcus Liberty as a pro.

UCLA's Baron Davis is said to have had the most impressive workouts of any of the top players. But there's a legitimate question about the surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Jonathan Bender? Please, he's barely out of high school. It's like staring at Anna Kournikova. I'm surprised somebody isn't tempting 17-year-old Tamir Goodman.

And of course, Lamar Odom. Mr. Asterisk. If he can't show up to take a physical exam and work out for a future employer, why the heck would I assume he would show up to meet Misters Duncan and Robinson in the lane on a Tuesday night in February? Odom may be a tantalizing talent, but so was John "Hot Plate" Williams. So was Shawn Bradley. So was Dontonio Wingfield. So was Yinka Dare. Here's my rule of thumb: If you haven't played three years of college or taken your team to the Final Four (i.e. Magic, Isiah Thomas), you aren't playing for me. Okay, I'd miss on a few such as Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd, but it would prevent me from wasting a pick on Jermaine O'Neal or Al Harrington, or so many guys who haven't learned how to play in college and have no chance to learn in the 100-mph world of the NBA.

Speaking locally, my worst-case scenario for the Wizards would have Krause keeping the No. 1 pick and taking Francis, Brand going to Vancouver, Davis going to Charlotte, Wally Szczerbiak to the Clippers (actually, that's Wally's worst scenario), Odom to Toronto, Richard Hamilton to Minnesota, and --

That leaves the Wizards out-o-luck, baby. It's a six-player draft and the Wizards are seventh.

There are two polished players I like in this draft for the Wizards (or for anybody): Szczerbiak and Hamilton.

Hamilton was the best player on a national champion, and he can do something hardly anybody in this league under 30 years old can do: hit a shot from anywhere on the court. He's skinny? So what? So was Scottie Pippen when he was drafted. So was David Robinson. Were you paying attention to Allan Houston the last six weeks of the season?

And what's the downside to Szczerbiak? He's 6-8, 243 pounds of rock, can shoot, can rebound, has completed his apprenticeship, and has a beautiful on-court mean streak. If the kid were black, he'd be the first player chosen. But because talent evaluators, who are predominantly white, can't differentiate Wally from the stereotypical "big, white, stiff," the kid suffers guilt by association even though there's nothing lacking in his game and he carries no personal baggage.

I loved it when Wally said yesterday that Odom, his summer-league buddy, needs to get his act together. "I'm sure there are a lot of people pulling him in different directions and he's probably like a rubber band about to snap. But at the same time, he's a grown man and he's supposed to make his decisions." Wally said. "This isn't high school. This is no joke. This is the NBA. I hope he gets things straightened out because he's a great talent."

That's just the kind of player the Wizards need after being sabotaged by knuckleheadedness so frequently over the years. The best-possible scenario for the Wizards has the Bulls taking Brand or Odom with the other going to Vancouver, Francis going to Charlotte, Davis going to the Clippers, Bender to Toronto, and Hamilton or Wally falling to the Wizards. If the Wizards can trade up in the draft and get Wally or Hamilton by dealing Tracy Murray and their pick to Toronto, let it rip. Maybe that would be the first baby step toward the Wizards bringing something a little more meaningful than a college draft to MCI Center in late June within the next 20 years.