NEW YORK -- After obtaining the eighth selection in the National Basketball Association lottery yesterday, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash took the philosphy that "it could have been worse."
That was where the free-falling Bullets, who have missed the playoffs the past two years, were programmed with only four of 66 balls in the hopper before commissioner David Stern made his selections for a national television audience.
A horseshoe and shamrock in his coat pocket failed to help Nash land one of the top three coveted selections in the June 26 draft, which went to the Charlotte Hornets, New Jersey Nets and Sacramento Kings, respectively.
"Sure, we wanted 1, 2 or 3, but being eighth gives us a chance to trade, trade down, or use the pick," Nash said. "It's premature to say which way we're leaning. But the closer you get to the draft, the more itchy you get. Last year, minus a No. 1, we felt we got left out of the dance."
With Nash in command, a trade remains a distinct possibility. Nash likes to pull the trigger and has made major deals both in Philadelphia and Washington.
In 1989, he obtained youthful point guard Johnny Dawkins for the 76ers by trading veteran Maurice Cheeks, and, last June brought forward Pervis Ellison to Washington for shooting guard Jeff Malone.
"In choosing eighth, the Bullets in need of a floor leader, might still find Las Vegas point guard Greg Anthony available. Other possibilities are UNLV forward Stacey Augman, whose stock fell in the 1991 NCAA Final Four, and a pair of centers -- Luc Longley of New Mexico by way of Australia, and Stanley Roberts, a strong rebounder and inside scorer who left LSU a year ago to play in Spain.
Longley, 7 feet 2 with a soft touch and fine passing skills, is questioned for his work ethic, and Roberts has a history of weight problems mindful of the Bullets' John Williams and Ledell Eackles.
But Nash, who scouted Roberts in Madrid two months ago, said he believes Roberts may now have his weight under control.
With the Bullets also seeking a consistent shooting guard, N.C. State's Rodney Monroe or Temple's Mark Macon might look more desirable.
Trading down might not be a bad option for the Bullets. In 1989, the other time they engaged in the lottery, they chose Georgia Tech forward Tom Hammonds, still trying to find his way as a pro.
Selected later that year were point guards Tim Hardaway, Pooh Richardson and Mookie Blaylock, who have enjoyed more success.
The three lucky winners -- the Hornets, Nets and Kings, will have more enviable decisions to ponder.
Charlotte, in need of a big man to fortify the middle, is expected to choose Georgetown shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo, with Syracuse forward Billy Owens as a second option.
Allan Bristow, the Hornets' vice president of basketball operations, used a favorite turkey caller as his lottery good-luck charm.
"There are no Patrick Ewings or Akeem Olajuwons available this year," he said, "but there are certainly some guys who will be great pros.
"We've already narrowed it down to four guys -- Owens, Larry Johnson [of UNLV], Mutombo or Kenny Anderson [of Georgia Tech]. Owens is probably the most versatile guy. He can play forward or even off-guard. Mutombo would be an asset to any team, but I'm not ruling out Kenny Anderson. He's an ACC player and very popular in our area."
The Nets, who chose first last year and landed Rookie of the Year Derrick Coleman, say they will take the best player available. General manager Willis Reed probably will pick Owens, if available, or Johnson.
Nets coach Bill Fitch is not enamored with inconsistent small forward Chris Morris, and veteran strong forward Roy Hinson could be forced to retire with chronic knee problems.
"I'm primarily looking for someone who can score," said Reed. Sacramento, without a proven point guard, would be only to happy to take Kenny Anderson, the Georgia Tech playmaker who skipped his final two years of college to opt for the pros.
Denver, which had the worst regular-season record, wound up with its guaranteed fourth selection. Last year, the Nuggets traded up with the Miami Heat to draft LSU guard Chris Jackson, who failed to fulfill his lofty expectations.
"We feel there are four solid players, so we'll get a good pick this year," said Nuggets general manager Bernie Bickerstaff.
Order of selection for the first round of the NBA draft, to be held June 26:
2. New Jersey
12. New York
16. Golden State (from Phila.)
17. Golden State
19. Denver (from Detroit via Dallas)
22. Clippers (Phoenix via Seattle)
23. Orlando (from San Antonio)
25. Golden State (from Lakers)
27. Sacramento (from Portland)