LANDOVER -- After a day of working feverishly to move up in the draft in an attempt to take Jason Kidd or Grant Hill, the Washington Bullets last night used their first-round pick -- the fifth overall -- to select Michigan forward Juwan Howard.
"I'm ecstatic," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "He's a terrific pick and a guy who will fit in immediately. Juwan is solid as a rock inside."
Howard, the first of the "Fab Five" to sign at Michigan, is a 6-foot-9, 250-pounder who should be able to provide immediate help for the Bullets at two positions. He'll mainly be used at power forward, but also can back up at center.
"He's maybe as fundamentally sound as any player in the draft," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "Someone has coached Juwan Howard. He has a discipline about his game and uses a high level of skill and technique."
And he provides a style the Bullets need -- a player who is tough and can operate with his back to the basket. The Bullets thought they had that last season, but center Kevin Duckworth, obtained in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, was a disappointment. Not only can Howard post up, he passes effectively and is able to hit a jumper up to 17 feet.
"My game is versatile," Howard said. "I'm able to bring so many little things to the team. I bring a work ethic."
The selection of Howard came after a busy day in which the Bullets tried to move up in an attempt to select Kidd or Hill, or make a deal for Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen or Seattle SuperSonics forward Shawn Kemp. But as the draft approached, the Bullets were resigned -- and pleased, they said -- to go with the No. 5 pick.
"Any time a Scottie Pippen or a Shawn Kemp name comes up, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't explore the possibilities," Nash said. "We were unable to make any deal for 2 [and the right to draft Kidd]. The ultimate was it was too costly -- we couldn't afford the second pick."
There also were offers made to Washington to trade down in the draft, but Nash declined the deals.
"We could have moved down and picked two players," said Nash, who would not disclose the deal. "We considered it, and thought against it."
So the Bullets drafted Howard, who ranks ninth in career NCAA tournament scoring with 280 points. His stock rose during this past NCAA tournament, when he averaged 29.0 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Howard also is an excellent position defender. He did a nice job of containing Maryland's heralded freshman, Joe Smith, during the Midwest Regional semifinals. Added to a Bullets team that had difficulty defensively, Howard brings another attribute that the team likes.
"If you look at the numbers from last year's team, the first ones that stand out are on team defense," Lynam said of the Bullets, who allowed 107.7 points a game. "I regard Howard as an outstanding defensive player.
"He's a very complete player. And when you try to make the transition from the college game to the NBA, that's a big factor."
With their second-round pick -- the 32nd overall -- the Bullets went with more height, selecting 7-1 center Jim McIlvaine.
At Marquette, McIlvaine led the nation with 4.3 blocked shots. He improved his scoring and rebounding in each of his four seasons, averaging 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior.
"Most people had projected him to go as high as 18," Nash said. "Where we selected him was almost a no-brainer. Whether or not he can step in and play at this time remains to be seen."
Howard and McIlvaine are just the latest additions to a youthful team that Nash hopes is close to competing for a playoff berth. The Bullets brass realizes that drafting Howard simply won't do the trick -- and will focus on an impact free agent after tomorrow, the date when free agents are able to begin negotiating with other teams.
"I'm not able to say who until after July 1," Nash said. "We're looking at the top-quality free agents. We'll make an effort to sign one."
That probably would be a point guard. With the addition of Howard, the Bullets have a lot of depth at forward. Tom Gugliotta and Don MacLean were the bright spots during a dismal season. Pervis Ellison, who becomes a free agent after tomorrow, appears to have played in his last game with the Bullets.
"Coach Lynam told me he's very comfortable with a three-forward rotation," Nash said. "What we're attempting to do is develop quality and depth."
Howard said last week that he would like to sign early so he can report to the rookie-free agent camp on July 8. It's not a requirement for a player to be signed to attend camp, but attending unsigned is not worth the risk for some players.
"Hopefully, I'll sign soon, and everything will work out the best," Howard said. "It's up to the owners and my agent to come up with something suitable to my market value."
F Juwan Howard, Michigan
* Size: 6-9, 250.
* Data: Averaged 20.8 points and 8.9 rebounds and was named third-team All-American. . . . One of five players in Michigan history to have 1,500 points and 700 rebounds. . . . A good post-up player with a decent medium-range jumper. . . . Good rebounder, but not much of a shot blocker. . . . Played center at Michigan, but is projected as a power forward in the NBA.
C Jim McIlvaine, Marquette
* Size: 7-1, 240
* Data: Averaged 13.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks and was an honorable mention All-American. . . . Improved scoring and rebounding in each of his four seasons but may need a few years to hone his offensive skills. . . . Fifth in Division I history with 399 career blocks.