NBA draft: Illusions come alive


LANDOVER -- David Stern has been commissioner of the NBA for several years now and still he never gets it right. Following the playoffs every season, he strides to the podium proudly and gushes, "Welcome to the [fill in the year] NBA Draft."

Not once has he ever used the word "Fantasyland" regarding this glorious night of grab-bag, but that indeed is what this exercise is. One would assume, after listening to all the &r; superlatives flying around, they were divvying up the players who have made it into the hoop Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., not, as happened last night, four sophomores and a high school kid in the first five selections.

Maryland's Joe Smith, who doesn't like earthquakes -- as opposed to all us other folks who do -- went No. 1, as expected, to Golden State. He was all smiles. Maybe the Warriors said he could commute from his home in Norfolk, Va., which is not resting atop any known fault.

Quickly, Antonio McDyess was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers for delivery to the Denver Nuggets later on in the evening, but the Alabama leaper had to make as if he would be playing at the L.A. Sports Arena during one of those dreary, put-on-a-team-cap interviews. He smiled, too, indicating he's either a heckuva actor or he wasn't aware of the Clippers' hopeless situation.

Jerry Stackhouse went to the Philadelphia 76ers and it was time for the Washington Bullets to select Stackhouse's North Carolina teammate, 6-11 Rasheed Wallace. Remember that great front line that functioned in Boston so long and so well until a few years ago -- Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale? Forget 'em.

Instantly, Washington general manager John Nash was practicing the order in which he would be saying the names of his inside men before settling on (Juwan) Howard, (Chris) Webber and Wallace. "We're really happy," he advised, "and we hope you are, too."

Any misgivings fans might have had about Wallace's being a whiner or a tad immature were quickly dispelled by Nash and coach Jim Lynam, who both hinted strongly that Rasheed was the talent they coveted all along.

"If, at the beginning of last season, you asked the NBA scouts who would be the first guy taken in the draft if all the good underclassmen came out," said Nash, "their answer would have been Wallace." In other words, the GM felt he had hit the lottery with the fourth pick.

While John used words like "big impact" and "most valuable asset we could acquire" regarding Wallace, Lynam was right with him, stating, "I think Rasheed can play all three spots up front [center, power forward and small forward] right now."

The coach spoke of a conversation he had with Wallace's college coach, Dean Smith, earlier in the day, the head Tar Heel testifying that Rasheed was one of the best players he had ever had when it came to being "receptive to teaching."

Lynam said besides "always striving to improve," Wallace is the type pick everyone watched the Celtics and Lakers make during their heydays: "Guys with athleticism and versatility who can play many positions on the floor."

While the words of the men continued to give hope to the nearly 6,000 fans gathered in USAir Arena that the Bullets well could reverse their awful 21-61 record of last season, Lynam finally inserted a touch of reality into the flights of fancy: "We've still got a challenge. We have to get a point guard."

And with that, he and Nash departed to do something about it with two picks in the second round -- to no avail. He took a shooting guard from Texas, Terrence Rencher, but then packaged him with Rex Chapman for delivery to the Miami Heat, the object of which was to dump Chapman's $2 million salary. The other selection (37) was sent to the Lakers for a pick sometime in the 21st century.

"That will be my job this summer, getting a point guard," said Nash, assuming Wallace isn't that versatile just yet.

"I can bring quickness to the team," said Wallace, who obviously has seen Gheorghe Muresan "run" the floor. Team president Sellout Sue O'Malley wants it made known that season ticket holders get first dibs on the good seats for playoff games.

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