Wallace continues to be Bullets' best shot


The Bullets are going to screw this up.

They're going to blow a chance to draft Rasheed Wallace if they trade the No. 4 pick in tonight's NBA draft to Portland.

They'd give up the pick, plus Rex Chapman or Calbert Cheaney.

They'd get Rod Strickland, plus the No. 8 pick or Cliff Robinson.

Not enough, if the other option is Wallace.

Not nearly enough.

Forget all their past lottery misfortune -- this time, the Bullets have no excuses.

For weeks, the top four picks appeared set, but the rising stock of high school phenom Kevin Garnett has put the Bullets in a stronger position than they ever imagined.

Portland wants Garnett so badly, it exchanged its top three picks yesterday (Nos. 18, 19 and 58) for Detroit's No. 8, with the intention of trading up further for the Bullets' choice.

Toronto, meanwhile, offered the Bullets the No. 7 pick and B. J. Armstrong. The way the Garnett frenzy is building, a half-dozen more teams might enter the bidding before tonight is over.

The Bullets can't take Garnett -- it's too big a risk.

And the only way they should consider the Portland trade is if Joe Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and Wallace are the first three picks, leaving Antonio "Roll The" McDyess at No. 4.

Wallace, the goal should be Wallace.

General manager John Nash should be ecstatic that he might luck into such a player, who likely would project as the No. 1 pick if not for questions about his attitude.

Instead, he might trade for a proven attitude problem.

Strickland is nearly 29. The Bullets would be his fourth team in eight seasons.

Wallace is 20. He, at least, has his youth as an excuse.

Wallace, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard -- nah, why would the Bullets want that front line? With an average age of 21, it could dominate the NBA into the next century.

Sure, this team needs a point guard, but it's not like Strickland is the only one available. Dana Barros, Elliot Perry and Brian Shaw are free agents. Sign one of them, and keep Cheaney.

There's your starting five.

And if the Bullets make the Portland trade?

They won't get a player as good as Wallace.

Strickland is a gifted penetrator. Robinson could add depth at forward. The No. 8 pick? It wouldn't yield much.

By all accounts, the drop-off after the first five picks is significant. As Detroit coach Doug Collins said yesterday. "We can get the guy at 18 we would have gotten at eight."

Big Country Reeves, the best pure center in the draft, will be gone by then. So might Cherokee Parks, another big man who could help the Bullets.

After trading Chapman or Cheaney, the Bullets probably would want a shooting guard -- most likely, Michigan State's Shawn Respert.

The 6-foot-1 Shawn Respert.

A defensive liability before he even puts on a uniform.

Get Rasheed, for crying out loud, and then take a point guard -- Tyus Edney? -- in the second round. Last we looked, the Bullets won 21 games last season. It's not like they're on the verge of an NBA title.

To think, Garnett is fueling all this.

Garnett, the pride of Chicago's Farragut Academy.

The idea of taking a high school kid No. 4 might sound insane, but Garnett is only 10 months younger than Maryland's Smith, the projected No. 1 pick.

That's why this draft is so volatile -- all of the top selections are babies.

Does anyone really know if Smith will be a better NBA power forward than Wallace, McDyess or even Garnett? Heck, this draft could be 1984 all over again, with one or more teams about to commit a major blunder.

Jerry Stackhouse is the best player in the draft, but Smith is a better fit for Golden State -- just like Sam Bowie was a better fit for Portland than Michael Jordan 11 years ago ago.

Who's going to blow it this time?

Not necessarily Golden State -- Smith is legit.

The Los Angeles Clippers?

Always possible.

The team that made top-three selections of Danny Ferry and Benoit Benjamin reportedly might trade its No. 2 pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Clarence Weatherspoon and the No. 3.

The Sixers would then take Stackhouse, leaving the Clippers with Wallace or McDyess. Clippers coach Bill Fitch recently said that Wallace's "attention span is short." Fine, then, take McDyess -- and save the Bullets the embarrassment.

Here's a guy who beat up on Ivy League Penn, then held his own against Bryant Reeves, and suddenly he's a top-five pick. It's rather amazing, considering he wasn't even first-team All-SEC.

Oh, McDyess will be a fine player, perhaps even a more polished version of Shawn Kemp, but right now, his game consists of tip-ins and dunks, and the occasional turnaround jumper from 10 feet.

What's more, he's 6 feet 9, the same size as Howard, and 1 inch shorter than Webber. If he can't shoot and can't play center, then what good is he to the Bullets?

"I don't think I can fit in well there," McDyess said yesterday in Toronto. "They have so many power forwards. It would be tough to go down there and get a chance to play."

Forget McDyess.

Forget Strickland.

Pray for Wallace.

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