-- The Washington Wizards entered Wednesday's NBA draft lottery hoping its third-worst league record would pay off. As fate would have it, things broke just as poorly as they did during the regular season.
Instead of landing a top-three pick for the June 24 draft, Washington fell to the No. 5 spot, which could decrease its chances of selecting one of the draft's more highly touted players or gaining optimum leverage for a trade. The last time Washington had the fifth pick, it used it on Michigan forward Juwan Howard in 1994.
"Everybody wants the number one pick but traditionally one team moves up," Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said. "We'll get the best player available at number five or the pick could be an asset for us."
The Wizards technically only slipped one spot, but this year the expansion Charlotte Bobcats were given the fourth overall pick regardless, sending Washington two slots backward.
"It's probably the wrong year to have that one," Grunfeld said of the Bobcats' draft position. "That's the way it goes."
The Orlando Magic, which finished with the worst record in the league, landed the top pick and all signs point to the franchise using it on Connecticut center Emeka Okafor, the one player pegged to make an immediate impact. The Los Angeles Clippers moved from the fifth position to the second spot while the Chicago Bulls, with the highest probability of securing the No. 2 pick, garnered the third choice.
Other than Okafor, Atlanta area high school forward Dwight Howard; Peoria, Ill., prep phenom Shaun Livingston; and collegiate non-seniors Luol Deng (Duke) and Josh Childress (Stanford) were being mentioned as the next group of players likely to be picked, said some NBA officials at the draft lottery who asked to remain anonymous.
Childress, who played with Grunfeld's son Danny at Stanford, is highly regarded by Washington's top personnel man, league sources said.
Grunfeld would not talk specifically about Childress earlier this week, saying only the more you know about a player is beneficial in the evaluation process.
However, Childress might not get past the Bobcats, but that doesn't mean the Wizards can't get their hands on him.
"If you take talent you can always move talent to acquire your needs and I do like sitting there ahead of Ernie because we probably have some kindred spirits about the same player -- and we would be willing to talk to him about that," Bobcats General Manager and Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.
Despite having a back court stocked with Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Steve Blake and Juan Dixon, Washington also is not ruling out taking a guard, such as Wisconsin's Devin Harris or Connecticut's Ben Gordon.
"This year there's no clear-cut number three, four, five or six," Grunfeld said. "It depends on how teams view those types of players. I'm confident we're going to get a really good player there, or have a really good asset."
Nearly every representative for the 13 non-playoff teams in the lottery and the expansion Bobcats said they would be willing to entertain trading their draft position, a clear sign of the uncertainty of the quality of a draft littered with high school players, young foreigners and collegiate non-seniors.
The Clippers have options and "we'll explore them all," Coach Mike Dunleavy said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said he would prefer that future drafts would be stocked with more college-experienced players and that, despite the success of prep-to-pro phenoms such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he would like to institute an age limit into the next collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire after this season.
"I'm more worried about the kids who may have potential but sit on the bench and may not ever get to be the students they were going to be," Stern said. "I worry about kids who get washed out because of their timing or their promise is false. That's really my concern."