If the National Basketball Association 1991 draft were to take place today, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash said, there would be only six sure-fire lottery selections among the senior class.
Nash rates guard Steve Smith of Michigan State, forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon of Nevada-Las Vegas and Doug Smith of Missouri and centers Dikembe Mutombo of Georgetown and Luc Longley of New Mexico as his only guaranteed picks.
But Nash also said several blue-chip underclassmen will opt for the June draft. To his lottery list he adds Georgetown junior forward Alonzo Mourning, Syracuse junior forward Billy Owens and George Tech sophomore guard Kenny Anderson. Nash places a huge question mark next to the name of Shaquille O'Neal, LSU's 7-foot-1 center, who is leaning toward staying in school beyond his sophomore season.
Even if all four of these underclassmen turn pro in 1991, that adds up to only 10 certain lottery choices, with 11 NBA also-ran teams eligible. Nash considers N.C. State scoring leader Rodney Monroe "a borderline case."
"We've scouted the guys we feel will be lottery picks rather thoroughly," said Nash, who does considerable scouting. "But if we think we'll be in the playoffs, we have to concentrate more on the second wave of players we feel will be in the bottom half of the first round. That takes more homework."
Longley is the mystery man among the likely lottery picks. The 7-1 center from Australia gets little national television exposure. But Bullets scout Bill Gardiner is impressed by Longley's offensive skills and speed.
"He keeps up with the New Mexico guards when they run the break," Gardiner said. "The big question with Luc is his consistency. He's kind of laid-back."
* Magic returns: Magic Johnson was released from Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Calif., yesterday and is expected to play tonight when the Los Angeles Lakers try to extend their winning streak to 16 games.
"All tests were negative, and he has permission to resume practice and playing," team doctor Stephen Lombardo said. "However, we will continue to monitor his progress."
Johnson was knocked unconscious and sustained a mild concussion near the end of the third quarter of Sunday's 99-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls. He suffered a slight concussion and a touch of amnesia and was taken to Centinela, where he spent the night for observation.
* Feeling the heat: New York Knicks general manager Al Bianchi has become the main target of frustrated fans, who yelled for his dismissal after Knicks reject Bernard King burned his old team for 49 points in the Bullets' 107-98 victory at Madison Square Garden Thursday.
Bianchi made overtures to lure King back to New York, but Nash said the talks never got serious, with no promising Knicks mentioned as possible bait.
"The way we've been playing at home, you can't blame the fans," said Bianchi, noting the Knicks' 10-13 record at the Garden. "They have to find someone else to boo other than the players. How long can you boo the same people?"
Bianchi even has been taking potshots from Knicks radio analyst Walt Frazier.
"I like Al, and he knows talent," said the former All-Star guard. "But a lot of people didn't like his trade of [guard] Rod Strickland to San Antonio and didn't think he did anything to help the team prior to the season."
Frazier, however, was more critical of Knicks All-Star center Patrick Ewing.
"He's been coming up with big numbers," Frazier said, "but he's not delivering with the game on the line."