Unable to Shaq up, Bullets view new territory


SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Scratch Shaquille O'Neal from Washington's winter sports scene. And also remove Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner and Jimmy Jackson from the Bullets' list of possibilities.

The Bullets' great expectations for the 1992-93 season were diminished when they finished with the sixth selection in the eighth NBA draft lottery conducted yesterday.

Now, general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld, hoping to procure a legitimate center (O'Neal) or power forward (Mourning) to reverse the team's fortunes, might have to go in a new direction or consider a trade.

The Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves obtained the first three choices. O'Neal, LSU's 7-foot-1 center, is ticketed for Orlando, Fla., and quickly could upstage Mickey Mouse as a local attraction if the Magic comes close to meeting his $50 million contract demands.

"I won't need a plane to fly back to Orlando tonight," said general manager Pat Williams.

Hornets coach Allan Bristow made it clear that Georgetown's Mourning would look wonderful in a Charlotte uniform next season. But Minnesota president Bob Stein hinted Jackson, Ohio State's all-purpose guard, may fit into the Timberwolves' scheme more than Laettner, the Duke center, who led the Blue Devils to consecutive NCAA titles.

After the top four picks, who goes next in the June 24 NBA draft is open to debate.

Many scouts rate Southern Cal's explosive guard Harold Miner and Maryland floor leader Walt Williams among the best six players available.

If either is still unclaimed by the time the Bullets pick, it could put plans to acquire an intimidating big man on hold. The forwards likely to be available with the sixth pick -- Stanford's Adam Keefe, UCLA's Don MacLean, Notre Dame's LaPhonso Ellis, Southern Mississippi's Clarence Weatherspoon and N.C. State's Tom Gugliotta -- all come with question marks -- too small, too slow or simply lacking the feistiness Unseld desires in a frontcourt player.

Unseld and Nash will begin their evaluation process today and will be auditioning individual players before next month's draft in Portland, Ore.

Said Nash, who carried an unlucky horseshoe from Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee in his pocket: "I've always considered this a deep draft. Five or six players immediately come to mind who might help us with our sixth choice. Look over past drafts, and you'll find a lot of players chosen sixth who became NBA All-Stars.

"But we still have to keep our options open," Nash added. "The sixth choice this year is far more valuable than the eighth we had last year, which we used to get [point guard] Michael Adams from Denver, plus a future draft pick."

In anticipating adding a solid player with the high draft pick, Nash said it amounted to "having almost two lottery selections for next season if you consider [veteran guard] Rex Chapman played only one game for us this season."

However, the big dreaming was left to Orlando's Williams, who could envision the expansion Magic becoming playoff contenders.

Williams downplayed rumors that O'Neal would limit his playing options to the Los Angeles area and other selected cities or opt for Europe or sitting out the season.

"Everybody else wants to come to Orlando -- 'The L.A. of the East,' " said Williams. "O'Neal is from the south, plus he has a chance to play again with his old college teammate [center] Stanley Roberts.

"Shaq has great potential and would be a terrific anchor for our team. But it's too soon to be talking playoffs and dancing streets. After all, he's only 20 and would be a senior at LSU this year."

The luckiest man in the room was Bristow, who had the first pick last May and used it to pick UNLV forward Larry Johnson, who won Rookie of the Year honors.

Now, with the second choice, he envisions Mourning as a perfect frontcourt complement to Johnson.

"I don't care about Mourning's offense," Bristow said. "We just need a strong presence in the middle. Along with Johnson and [guard] Kendall Gill, we've got three key pieces to the puzzle."

Top draft picks

The draft order for the 11 non playoff teams:

1. Orlando

2. Charlotte

3. Minnesota

4. Dallas

5. Denver

6. Washington

7. Sacramento

8. Milwaukee

9. Philadelphia

10. Atlanta

11. Houston

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