NEW YORK -- The names Rodney Rogers, J. R. Rider and Calbert Cheaney suddenly grew more important to the Washington Bullets yesterday after their perennial bad luck held true to form in the NBA lottery.
Despite having the third-worst record (22-60) and nine of the 66 pingpong balls in the hopper, the Bullets ended up with the sixth choice -- the worst they could have done -- in the June 30 draft behind the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Since 1977, Washington has not had a higher pick than fifth, helping to explain the franchise's decline.
The Magic, on the other hand, again lived up to its name in pulling another rabbit out of the hat.
For the second straight year, general manager Pat Williams plucked the big prize, only this time Orlando had only a single ball in the hopper.
Last May, LSU center Shaquille O'Neal was the obvious first choice. This year, NBA scouts are divided between 7-foot-6, 235-pound center Shawn Bradley of Brigham Young and 6-9, 245-pound power forward Chris Webber, who led Michigan to two straight NCAA finals. Webber, with his power and rebounding skills, would appear to be the final piece in making the Magic a legitimate title contender.
"Right now, we have no idea who we will pick," said Williams.
"We've got to spend a lot of time investigating Bradley's possibilities. But for the last two years, only Australian housewives have seen him through screen doors."
Bradley, who spent only one season at BYU, has been on a Mormon mission in Sydney, Australia.
The Bullets only wish they had the problem of choosing between Bradley and Webber. It's also unlikely they will get a shot at Kentucky forward Jamal Mashburn, who is rated a top-four choice.
Instead, for the second straight year, Washington will have the No. 6 pick. Last June, the Bullets used it to select North Carolina State forward Tom Gugliotta, who led the team in rebounding and earned a spot on the league's All-Rookie team.
"I still believe we will get a very good player at six, probably comparable in skill to a Gugliotta," said general manager John Nash, trying to mask his disappointment. "We might even see [Memphis State All-America guard] Anfernee Hardaway slip down that low if some of the teams ahead of us aren't looking for a guard.
"A year ago, I walked away from the lottery thinking Gugliotta would be our pick, but kept an open mind.
"This year, it's definitely more up in the air. Obviously we have a lot of needs. Even if we were to take a Rider [Nevada-Las Vegas' high-scoring guard] or a Cheaney [Indiana's smooth small forward], it could open the way for trades."
There is speculation the Bullets could trade small forward Harvey Grant, who becomes a free agent after next season.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld has long been seeking an intimidating presence up front to ease the defensive burden on Pervis Ellison and Grant, both prone to injuries.
Wake Forest's Rogers, considered a "tweener" between power and small forward at 6-7 and 235 pounds, might be the best player available at the sixth slot to fill such a role. Rogers averaged 21.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Deacons as a junior, before declaring himself eligible for the draft.
The only good news for owner Abe Pollin, who was a lottery participant, is that a sixth selection should be in the $2 million price range, or at least $1 million less than the top three picks can demand.
With $17 million in existing contracts, Nash expectsto slice $5.5 million off the salary cap by next season, leaving over $2 million of maneuvering room.
"We should have less trouble signing our pick this year, and should have him for the start of training camp," Nash said. "And we could have enough left over in the cap to pursue an attractive free agent."
Nash did not rule out trading the draft choice. He did that two years ago, sending the No. 8 pick to Denver for point guard Michael Adams.
Philadelphia, with the second pick, would gladly settle for Bradley. That would give them the unusual post combination of the 7-6 Bradley and 7-7 Manute Bol.
76ers general manager Jim Lynam said: "Everyone just talks about this kid being 7-6. But he's a unique player with a great feel for the game.
"With his size and long arms, he can block shots like Manute Bol. But unlike Manute, Bradley has displayed real offensive skills. The only real question is his physique."
Golden State coach and general manager Don Nelson also likes Bradley's potential and could consider trading up to get him.
"We'd certainly like to improve our center position," said Nelson, who has been dangling guard Sarunas Marciulionis and center Victor Alexander as trade bait.
"But if we keep the pick, at three, I know we'll still get a heck of a player. I could even imagine Hardaway and Hardaway in our backcourt," said Nelson, laughing at the possibility of teaming Anfernee Hardaway with NBA All-Star guard Tim Hardaway.
The Orlando Magic defied the odds yesterday, gaining the top pick in the NBA draft lottery despite having just one ball out of 66 in the hopper.
Here is the lottery order, with season record and where each team would have picked if the draft were held in the traditional format, with the worst team getting the first pick, second-worst the second pick, etc.
No. Team.. .. .. .. .. .. W-L.. .. .. .. .. .. Pick
1. Orlando .. .. .. .. ..41-41.. .. ... .. .. 11
2. Philadelphia .. .. .. 26-56.. .. .. .. .. .. 5
3. Golden State .. .. .. 34-48.. .. .. .. .. .. 7
4. Dallas .. .. .. .. .. 11-71 .. .. .. .. .. .. 1
5. Minnesota .. .. .. .. 19-63 .. .. .. .. .. .. 2
6. Washington .. .. .. ..22-60 .. .. ... .. .. ..3
7. Sacramento .. .. .. ..25-57 .. .. .. .. .. .. 4
8. Milwaukee.. .. .. .. .28-54 .. .. .. .. .. .. 6
9. Denver .. .. .. .. .. 36-46 .. .. .. .. .. .. 8t
10. Miami* .. .. .. .. ..36-46 .. .. .. .. .. .. 8t
11. Detroit .. .. .. .. 40-42 .. .. .. .. .. .. 10
* Miami can send this pick to Detroit to complete an earlier trade for John Salley, or the Heat can keep the pick and send its second-round pick this year (36th overall) and first-round pick next year to the Pistons.