LANDOVER -- Believing the franchise already has overcome the roughest part of its rebuilding job, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash rejected several attractive trade offers to make College Player of the Year Calbert Cheaney of Indiana the team's No. 1 pick in the 1993 NBA draft last night.
"We had offers not only for our pick [sixth overall], but also several of our veteran players," Nash said. "But we were reluctant to part with a player like Cheaney, the one guy everyone seemed to want."
If, in fact, the Bullets were offered versatile forward Detlef Schrempf of the Indiana Pacers and point guard Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers, both all-stars, it will put added pressure on Cheaney to provide instant help for a team that finished 22-60 last season.
With it all but guaranteed that Michigan forward Chris Webber, Brigham Young center Shawn Bradley, Memphis State guard Anfernee Hardaway and Kentucky forward Jamal Mashburn would be gone after the first four selections, the only real suspense was whether the Minnesota Timberwolves, choosing fifth, would, as expected, take UNLV swing man J. R. Rider.
BThe Bullets had coveted Rider for his explosive scoring potential, but insisted they were not dissatisfied in landing Cheaney, who averaged 22.4 points as a senior and set a school career scoring record (2,613 points).
"Talent-wise, we really liked Rider," Nash said, "and we believe he could become Rookie of the Year and make the all-star team before Cheaney. But we believe we got the complete package in Cheaney -- a scorer, leader and strong defender."
But where Cheaney fits into the Bullets' lineup was open to debate. With Rider taken, Washington was seeking someone to replace small forward Harvey Grant, who last week was traded )) to Portland for center Kevin Duckworth.
"At 6 feet 7 and 215, I'd be giving up height and weight to the average NBA small forward," Cheaney said, who has indicated his preference would be to play shooting guard. "But if I have to play that position, I feel I can out-quick the bigger guys."
If Cheaney exhibits ball-handling skills and the ability to hit the pro three-pointer with consistency, he could challenge Rex Chapman and backup LaBradford Smith at shooting guard, but Bullets coach Wes Unseld said it is too early to make such assessments.
"We're still grappling with this," Unseld said. "Tomorrow [Thursday], I'll sit down with [assistant] Jeff Bzdelik and try to determine how Cheaney fits in with Pervis Elli- son, Tom Gugliotta and Duckworth and go from there."
Inevitably, someone posed the question of why so few of Indiana coach Bob Knight's players have enjoyed success as professionals. The list of failures includes Kent Benson, Scott May and Steve Alford. The most notable exception is Isiah Thomas, who left the Hoosiers after his sophomore year to become an all-star guard with the Detroit Pistons.
"I don't have any reservations about the so-called 'Indiana Syndrome,' " Nash said. "Knight selects players to fit his system, and they have great success in college."
Cheaney said: "People are always raising that question. I can't be equated with what Indiana players did in the past."
When Cheaney arrived in Bloomington, Ind., he said he was shy and a man of few words. By his senior year, he was demonstrative and forceful as the Hoosiers' unquestioned leader.
"Coach Knight told me before my senior year that as the best player, I'd not only have to lead by example, but also be more vocal and show some emotion. And that's what I tried to do," Cheaney said. He was named top college player last season by Associated Press, Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.
The Bullets took a king-sized gamble with the first (30th overall) of their two second-round picks, selecting 7-7, 315-pound Gheorge Muresan of Romania.
Muresan, 22, is viewed as a long-range project. Last season he played in the French Basketball League for Pau Orthez. In championship play, he averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. He once scored 42 points for the Romanian National team against Sweden.
Speaking through an interpreter at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., Muresan said, "I have come to this country with high hopes of making it in the NBA. I love this game. I believe soon many people on the street in my country will be bouncing balls."
Said Nash: "Frankly, I don't expect Muresan to play with us this coming season. But I view him as a player whose value can only increase, just like [Croatian] Toni Kukoc's situation with Chicago.
"He has a presence defensively, and he has a very good shooting touch for a big man. He has more basketball skills than Manute Bol, but he has trouble running the floor and jumping for rebounds."
After trading their 36th choice to New Jersey for considerations, Washington drafted Conrad McRae of Syracuse with the 38th selection.
"At 38, you just hope to find a player good enough to play onto your roster," Nash said. "McRae is from New York and has some toughness and meanness, something we wouldn't mind adding to our team this season."
* The Bullets announced that they had renounced the rights to center-forward Charles Jones, 36, and guard Andre Turner, who played in Europe last season. The Bullets may not re-sign either player until the 56th day of the 1993-94 season. "This is simply a salary cap move," Nash said. "Charles Jones is still undergoing rehab from reconstructive knee surgery. This gives us room under the cap, with which we hope to sign our first-round pick."