Call them the hard-luck Washington Bullets. For the past 11 seasons, they have been one of the NBA's most dismal franchises, notching just one winning season. And yet the Bullets haven't snared a top-five draft pick since Greg Ballard was selected fourth in 1977.
Tonight, that all changes.
No, the Bullets don't have a shot at Glenn Robinson, the franchise player expected to be taken first by the Milwaukee Bucks. Or the player they desperately need, point guard Jason Kidd, expected to be taken by the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 2 pick. But in a draft containing five players with likely immediate impact, the Bullets appear to be in good shape with the No. 5 pick.
Now, it's just a matter of which player falls into their lap.
Barring a trade -- which is possible -- the Bullets are expected to select one of two 6-foot-9 forwards -- Juwan Howard of Michigan or Donyell Marshall of Connecticut. And for the second year in a row, Washington's pick is based on what the Minnesota Timberwolves do ahead of them.
Last year, the Bullets were hoping to land Isaiah Rider, who was selected by Minnesota at No. 5. This year, the Timberwolves pick fourth, and indications are they will select Marshall, a first-team All-American who averaged 25.1 points and was Big East Player of the Year.
That would leave the Bullets with Howard, a 250-pound bruiser whose ideal position would be power forward. One of the original "Fab Five" who entered Michigan three years ago and made it to two straight NCAA title games, Howard had a solid junior season in which he averaged 20.8 points and 8.9 rebounds.
He bolstered his stock during the NCAA tournament, in which he averaged 29.0 points and 12.8 rebounds in four games.
Howard also has demonstrated the attitude that general managers like. He said recently he plans on signing quickly, explaining it's necessary for him to be in rookie camp.
"He's a very solid player," Bullets general manager John Nash said of Howard.
If the Timberwolves pick Howard, the Bullets then likely would grab Marshall, a lean 210-pounder who would play small forward and possibly some off-guard. Marshall led Connecticut to the Sweet 16 and was runner-up to Robinson as national Player of the Year.
Howard and Marshall play forward, the Bullets' strongest position. The Bullets need help at point guard and center. So several trade rumors have been floating around:
* Don MacLean and the No. 5 pick (Howard) to the Chicago Bulls for Scottie Pippen.
Sounds a little far-fetched for the Bulls, unless a certain tongue-wagging baseball player comes back.
* Tom Gugliotta and the No. 5 to Chicago for Pippen and the Bulls' No. 21.
This rumor got legs yesterday and seems more likely. But the move would leave a big void at power forward for the Bullets.
* MacLean and the No. 5 to the Los Angeles Clippers for Mark Jackson and Los Angeles' No. 7 pick.
A more likely scenario, with the Bullets getting a former All-Star point guard who wants to move back East.
* MacLean and the No. 5 to Detroit for the No. 3 pick.
This is possible only if Dallas surprises everyone and drafts Grant Hill instead of Kidd. Detroit is heavy in guards, and would be willing to trade the pick for a scoring forward such as MacLean and a shot at drafting Howard or Marshall.
The Bullets brass would not comment about any of the rumored deals. Nash would love to move up in the draft. But even if the Bullets don't, Nash is just happy that Washington is in the fifth spot.
After finishing with the second-worst record in the league in 1992-93 (22-60) and fifth-worst in 1991-92 (25-57), the Bullets wound up sixth in the draft both years. Gugliotta (1992 first-round pick) and Calbert Cheaney (1993) have shown great potential, but the Bullets -- with the fifth-worst record last season -- could not afford to drop.
"We got our just due by landing at the No. 5 spot," Nash said. "I'm happy with the pick because we didn't want to lose any ground."
Especially in a draft that's bolstered by 20 underclassmen. Four of the top five projected picks -- Robinson, Kidd, Marshall and Howard -- are underclassmen.
"This year's draft, I think, is deeper than most because of all the underclassmen who came out," Nash said. "Like any rookies, in this class there will be some who surprise you and some who will disappoint."
The Bullets also have some question marks at center. Kevin Duckworth proved to be a big disappointment in his first season, and there's a good chance that Pervis Ellison, whose shaky knees relegated him to a backup role last season, won't be with the team when he becomes a free agent tomorrow.
Eric Montross from North Carolina, Sharone Wright from Clemson and Yinka Dare of George Washington could be worth a look -- only if the Bullets wind up trading down.
"Montross has a big body, a blue-collar work ethic and will produce every night," Nash said. "Dare's potential is his upside, but he's not ready to deliver consistently day in and day out."
NOTE: Fans are invited to the annual draft party at the USAir Arena, starting tonight at 6:30. The arena floor will be set up in a carnival-type atmosphere, with rides and games. The $6 tickets benefit the Stay in School Program, and entitles fans to two tickets for a game next season.
1994 NBA DRAFT
Where: Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis.
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.