SECAUCUS, N.J. -- There was every reason for the Washington Bullets to be excited going into yesterday's NBA draft lottery. Their positioning gave them excellent odds of nabbing the second pick, and their two best players, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, were on hand to provide a bit of good luck.
But an opportunity to plug maybe Jerry Stackhouse or Joe Smith into the team's future slipped away, as the Bullets went into the fourth position in yesterday's lottery.
The Golden State Warriors, hurt by trades and dissent and finishing fifth from the bottom this past season, came through with a bit of divine intervention -- a priest -- to get the top pick. The Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA's worst team, will select second. The Philadelphia 76ers, who had the fourth-worst record, will pick third.
Only the Bullets and the Minnesota Timberwolves -- who tied for the second-worst record in the league -- slipped in positioning (Minnesota fell from third to fifth).
If the Bullets were disappointed by slipping, they weren't showing it.
In a draft in which four top-quality underclassmen could be selected at the top (Stackhouse, Smith, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess), the Bullets are assured of getting a player who figures to contribute immediately.
"We're going to get a good, quality player," Bullets general manager John Nash said. "We'll take the player we feel is the best [regardless of] his position."
Or the Bullets could play "Let's Make a Deal" and dangle the pick in an effort the change positioning or address the team's point guard needs.
"We would not rule out any chance of moving up, moving back otrading the pick," Nash said. "The chances of us trading it are probably as high as 50-50. [The pick] is a valuable asset. It's not just valuable to us, but valuable to people around the NBA."
Smith will be an asset. The question is where. Depending on team needs, the Maryland All-American could go as high as first or as low as fourth.
"It's very hard to say," Golden State general manager Dave Twardzik said when asked who was the No. 1 player. "We are going to watch a lot of film. I'm very familiar with the guys back East, because I've seen a lot of them in the ACC.
"Stackhouse is probably the best athlete," Twardzik said. "JoSmith is a tireless worker, a good rebounder and has a good nose for the ball. Even though he's thin, he certainly doesn't shy away from contact."
Although power forward Loy Vaught is the best player with thClippers, coach Bill Fitch said he likes what he's seen in Smith.
"From what I've seen of him, he plays hard every night," Fitch said. "He's going to have to bulk up and get more strength. But he's as ready to play as anyone in the draft. If he goes to the right place, he'll play a lot of minutes as a rookie."
For the second year in a row, the Bullets had a player sitting before the cameras representing the team. This year, it was Webber.
The Bullets would not land a No. 1 of their own. But this will be the first time since 1977 (when Washington selected Greg Ballard) that the Bullets will have the fourth pick. The team hasn't had a No. 3 pick since 1963, a No. 2 pick since 1968 and a No. 1 pick since 1961.
At least the Bullets are improving. For two straight years, the team picked sixth, selecting Tom Gugliotta and Calbert Cheaney. Last year, the fifth pick yielded Howard. The No. 4 pick should provide another player who can expected to be a cornerstone of the franchise.
"We have a lot of time. We'll probably interview five to seven players," said Nash, who added that the interviews could begin this week. "We could be looking at the same player at four that we could have seen at two or three. So, no, we're really not disappointed with position."
In addition to Webber and Howard, Bullets coach Jim Lynam was here, as was Hoops, the team mascot, who walked to Secaucus from USAir Arena. Perhaps the Bullets would have been better off seeking some divine intervention. Golden State had the Rev. Peter Colapietro, a New York priest who officiated at the wedding of team owner Chris Cohan, sitting in the audience.
"When I was in Rome last week, I went into a church and lit a candle for St. Jude, who is a patron saint of hopeless causes," Colapietro said. "And I guess he listened."
Made aware that Golden State had some help from above, Howard said he knew the Bullets faced tough odds.
"You put God in there," Howard said, "and that's pretty tough."
The first five teams picking in June's NBA draft, determined by yesterday's lottery:
1. Golden State Warriors
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. Washington Bullets
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
NOTE: The draft order of remaining eight non-playoff teams is on Page 12C.
The draft order for the 11 teams that failed to make the playoffs and the two expansion teams:
1. Golden State
2. L.A. Clippers
6. Toronto or Vancouver
7. Toronto or Vancouver
9. New Jersey