In what is expected to be one of the most frenzied NBA drafts in recent history tonight at MCI Center, the Washington Wizards would like to draft either Miami (Ohio) forward Wally Szczerbiak, Rhode Island forward Lamar Odom or Connecticut guard Richard Hamilton with the No. 7 pick.

However, Washington may end up with Duke forward Corey Maggette, Nevada-Las Vegas forward Shawn Marion or high schooler Jonathan Bender because neither Hamilton nor Szczerbiak is expected to fall past the sixth pick, owned by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"There's a whole lot of smoke out there," Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld said yesterday. "As of now you're not getting a straight answer from anyone."

Washington has spoken to Toronto about a trade that would move Washington to the Raptors' No. 5 spot, where Szczerbiak or Odom might be available, according to a Toronto source with knowledge of the discussions. However, the Raptors, who hold the fifth and 12th picks, have been besieged with offers the past few days and Washington's bait of the No. 7 pick and a player -- most likely forward Tracy Murray -- might not be enough.

Unless Washington trades down, which Unseld said is unlikely unless a team offers the Wizards a player they can't resist along with its pick, Washington probably will retain the seventh pick.

If Szczerbiak or Odom is still available, the Wizards will snatch one. Of the two, however, Odom is more likely to fall to the Wizards.

"If he's there at seven we have to find out why he's at seven," said Wizards Coach Gar Heard, who implied Washington would not ponder that too long and pick Odom. "I think Odom can have a big impact. He's a natural player."

Odom failed to work out for several teams he had scheduled workouts with, missed a physical at the NBA pre-draft camp and has not made his whereabouts known in recent weeks, raising some red flags. But Odom did work out for four teams Monday and his talent also has raised some eyebrows. There is speculation that the Chicago Bulls may take Odom with the first overall pick, if merely to dangle him as trade bait.

The Miami Heat, which owns the 25th pick, has worked out Odom twice the past two days and appears willing to part with forward P.J. Brown -- whom they would not deal over the past two seasons to get Mitch Richmond or Latrell Sprewell -- to get Odom. The Heat also has spoken to Vancouver about acquiring the second pick.

All the possible wheeling and dealing could make the 6-foot-6 Hamilton available to the Wizards, along with Maggette, Bender and Marion -- all non-seniors who were early entries to the draft.

Hamilton, a two-time all-American who left Connecticut after his junior season, can be a slasher from the wing, albeit in a backup role to Richmond, a free agent whom the Wizards say they want to re-sign. The sinewy Hamilton also could be insurance in case Richmond signs elsewhere.

Heard said Washington needs some punch off its bench and Hamilton could provide that offensive jolt. The Wizards got inconsistent production from their backup shooting guards last season as Tim Legler was hurt much of the season and Calbert Cheaney struggled offensively.

"I think Hamilton can have an impact because he's a scorer," Heard said.

Because he played three years in college, Hamilton, who averaged 19.8 points at U-Conn., also is projected to be more prepared to play right away, which may not be the case with Maggette, who left after his freshman season and started only a handful of games. Scouts say his knowledge of the game lags behind his ability.

Still, the fact that a reserve is projected as a lottery pick speaks volumes of his potential and athleticism. The 6-6 swingman calls himself a cross between a shooting guard and small forward, similar to Cheaney or the Detroit Pistons' Jerry Stackhouse.

At 6-7, Marion is a strong scorer, defender and rebounder. He spent his first two college seasons at Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College before transferring to UNLV, where he led the team in scoring with an 18.7 average.

Then there is Bender, the rail-thin, 6-11 forward from Picayune (Miss.) High. The Wizards have tried for more than two weeks to set up a workout with the 18-year-old, but Bender has not made himself available, in part because so many other teams already had set up appointments to see him.

"If he's there at seven, he's a guy we have to look at," Heard said. "I like his potential. I like his upside."

Bender has drawn comparisons to Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett, who also joined the NBA straight from high school. Bender is expected to be selected by the Raptors, who have the No. 5 pick, but if Odom slips to fifth, Toronto is expected to draft him then possibly trade him to Miami.

That could open the door for Minnesota to select Hamilton, leaving the Wizards with the option of Maggette, Marion or Bender.

The Wizards also have the No. 35 pick -- the sixth pick of the second round -- and they hope to land 7-foot-2 Stanford center Tim Young, whom they worked out yesterday. Young started 125 games at Stanford, where he averaged 11.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and nearly a blocked shot per game.

"I'd like to bring some size in," Heard said. "We have Terry Davis, Ben Wallace and Jahidi White, but we want to try to find some guys who are legitimate centers. Whether we get him at number 35, I don't know."


When: Tonight

Site: MCI Center

TV: 7:30, TNT

Tickets: Sold out.

The Top 10 Draft Order

1. Chicago

2. Vancouver

3. Charlotte

4. L.A. Clippers

5. Toronto

(from Denver)

6. Minnesota

(from New Jersey)

7. Washington

8. Cleveland

(from Boston)

9. Phoenix

(from Dallas)

10. Atlanta

(from Golden St.)


2 p.m.

NBA Jam Van outside MCI Center on F Street.

5:50 p.m.

Wizards Chris Whitney and Tim Legler compete in 2Ball competition on F Street.

6 p.m.

MCI Center doors open.

7 p.m.

In-arena show begins.

7:30 p.m.

Draft begins.

CAPTION: Maryland's Steve Francis could join John Lucas (1976) and Joe Smith (1995) as the NBA's No.1 pick, making Terps the first program to have three players picked first.