LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers landed the first pick in the 1998 NBA draft at the pingpong ball lottery yesterday in Secaucus, N.J., a pick with which they are expected to select Arizona point guard Mike Bibby.
Unless they get an offer from another team they can't refuse.
General manager Elgin Baylor wouldn't be specific about his team's choice, but he declared that he is certain he will sign free-agent center Isaac Austin, praised his frontcourt and conceded that there are serious problems in his backcourt where no one was effective last season at playing the point.
"It is no secret that we need to improve our backcourt," Baylor said.
And it is certainly no secret that the Clippers think highly of Bibby, the 20-year-old guard who led Arizona to the NCAA title in 1997. A sophomore, Bibby is coming out early after averaging 17.2 points and 5.7 assists last season.
"It's not in stone who we are going to take," Baylor said, "even though we think highly of this particular player."
Technically, the Clippers didn't win yesterday's lottery. That honor went to the Vancouver Grizzlies. But when the Grizzlies entered the league three years ago, part of their expansion agreement stipulated that they were not eligible for the first lottery pick for three years.
So the Clippers, 17-65 this season, move up to the top spot, followed by the Grizzlies (19-63) and the Denver Nuggets (11-71).
Besides Bibby, the other top prospects in this draft, in no particular order, are: forward Antawn Jamison of North Carolina, swingman Paul Pierce of Kansas, swingman Vince Carter of North Carolina, forward Raef LaFrentz of Kansas and center Michael Olowokandi of Pacific.
If Austin, obtained in a February trade with the Miami Heat, leaves in free agency, the Clippers would be interested in Olowokandi.
According to a source close to the Clippers, Austin, after arriving and checking out the scene, informed management that he wouldn't return if Bill Fitch remained as coach. That became rTC moot issue when Fitch was fired two days after the final game.
Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl is thought to be the top choice, should he be cut loose as expected. But Karl is expected to ask for the general manager's job, as well as that of head coach, from any future employers.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
5. b-Golden State
13. Orlando (from Washington)
a-Vancouver has option to convey pick to Detroit. If Detroit receives pick, it may be conveyed to Philadelphia. b-Pick might be conveyed to Orlando or Utah. c-Pick may be conveyed to Denver. d-Detroit might have option to convey pick to Philadelphia. e-Pick may be conveyed to Golden State or Utah.
Pub Date: 5/18/98