When the idea of using lottery-hopper pingpong balls as chips in trade negotiations came up at the NBA's recent Board of Governors meetings, it wasn't the first time.
In the days leading up to last year's lottery, Charlotte Hornets coach Allan Bristow telephoned league vice president Rod Thorn and asked whether it was within the rules to make a deal using pingpong balls as compensation.
Bristow was ready to give up a second-round pick for, say, two more balls in the hopper. As the system works now, the team with the worst record during the regular season gets 11, the second-worst gets 10, in descending order down to the 11th-worst, which gets one.
If you're counting, the Philadelphia 76ers -- who had the ninth-worst record -- will have three balls in the hopper May 17. They could end up with any of the first three picks or one between No. 9 and No. 11.
"All Rod said was, 'Please, Allan. . . . ,' " Bristow said. "But I was just trying to play my options. I liked the idea of increasing our odds of getting one of the first three picks.
"But as I thought about it, I said, 'How would you like to be a guy who had to someday say he got traded for pingpong balls?'"
Bristow's luck held up anyway when the Hornets got the No. 1 choice and used it to take Larry Johnson, the forward from Nevada-Las Vegas who finished the season as the league's best, most advanced rookie.
But one owner, trying to make his own luck, brought up the idea in New York a couple of weeks ago.
"He was willing to trade his own team's first-round pick," Sixers owner Harold Katz said.
The thought, Katz said, was dismissed without even a vote, on the premise that it would make a mockery of the lottery system.
Still . . .
"If I could've bought some balls, I'd have bought some balls," Katz said. "I would have bought as many as possible. I'd have bought all 66, [but] so would every owner in the room."
This was one issue on which Charles Barkley was prepared to stand by his team's owner.
NB "I'd have them given them my salary to do that," Barkley said.
Issues and answers: Mitchell Wiggins, whose one-year contract with the Sixers is up, is learning the hard way. During the final two weeks of the season, he announced his intentions to play for Miami in the United States Basketball League, saying that it was just a matter of signing.
John Lucas, the former Maryland and NBA guard who operates a substance-abuse rehabilitation and recovery clinic in Houston, is directing the Tropics for the first time and filling his roster with players who have passed through his program. That includes TTC Wiggins, who once was banned from the NBA.
But Jacksonville designated Wiggins' school, Florida State, as one of its three territorial colleges and placed Wiggins on its negotiating list.
"Jacksonville's a Florida State town, Mitch was popular here and has played here before with our USBL team," Hooters owner-coach Rex Morgan said. "He won't be in the league if he doesn't play for us, and if he does play he'll be the best 'two' guard in the league."
The ball is in Wiggins' court.
To ensure being competitive for a May 8 exhibition against the Russian Olympic team, Morgan already has signed 42-year-old former ABA and NBA star Artis Gilmore, who also is the Hooters' president, and Otis Smith, who just finished an injury-splotched season with the Orlando Magic.
"Miami already has Roy Tarpley and Richard Dumas, they're talking about maybe having Walter Berry and Walter Davis," Morgan said. "John [Lucas] called us [about acquiring Wiggins] in the middle of the draft, but we said we weren't interested. This is a grass-roots situation, but I take it as seriously as Katz takes
Moving up: Guys who helped themselves in the postseason all-star settings? Try Texas-El Paso forward Marlon Maxey and ,, Pepperdine guard Doug Christie. They qualify as what the scouts term "ascenders."