NBA lottery delivers no guarantees Top draftees help, don't always win

April 13, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

The NBA draft lottery is weighted with great expectations for the league's downtrodden, but success can prove as elusive as any get-rich-quick scheme.

For the Washington Bullets and 10 other non-playoff teams this season, the dream of getting the first pick in the June 30 draft and adding Shawn Bradley, Jamal Mashburn or Anfernee Hardaway to the roster holds the promise of instant respectability. But history tells us otherwise.

Since the lottery process began in 1985 with the New York Knicks' selection of Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, only one team choosing first has made it as far as the conference finals. That was the Cleveland Cavaliers, who used a swap with the Philadelphia 76ers to make North Carolina center Brad Daugherty their No. 1 pick in 1986.

In Daugherty's rookie year, the Cavaliers were 31-51. Cleveland made it to the conference finals last year, losing to the championship-bound Chicago Bulls in six games.

In Ewing's first three seasons, the Knicks were a combined 85-161. And despite his major contributions as a scorer and rebounder, New York has yet to make it to the conference finals -- though this season might be the Knicks' best opportunity to challenge for a title in 20 years.

Kansas All-America forward Danny Manning was the first pick in 1988, but the Los Angeles Clippers were 82-164 in his first three rTC seasons. Last year, the Clippers made the playoffs, but were eliminated in the first round by the Utah Jazz.

In 1989, the Sacramento Kings made Louisville center Pervis Ellison the top pick. Ellison spent most of his rookie season on the injured list and was traded the next year to Washington, where he has shown steady improvement, but the Bullets have regressed in the standings.

The only true success story in the lottery was the San Antonio Spurs' selection of former Navy center David Robinson in 1987.

Because of military commitments, the 7-foot center had to wait until 1989 to make his pro debut. But, in his rookie year, Robinson transformed a Spurs team that won only 21 games to 56-game winners and conference semifinalists.

San Antonio has averaged more than 50 victories with Robinson, but has yet to gain the conference finals.

Syracuse power forward Derrick Coleman, the No. 1 selection by the New Jersey Nets in 1990, suffered through a 26-56 season as a rookie, but the Nets since have shown steady progress and will make the playoffs for the second straight year.

The drafting of former UNLV forward Larry Johnson in 1991 added five victories -- 26 to 31 -- to the Charlotte Hornets' record in 1991-92. But the expansion Hornets, who added Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning as the second choice last year, are bidding to make the playoffs for the first time in their five-year history.

By landing 7-0 LSU center Shaquille O'Neal in the 1992 lottery, the Orlando Magic gained instant respectability. The Magic jumped from 21 to 36 victories this season, but it will need a strong finish in its last eight games to make the playoffs.

In essence, the lottery is no guarantee of instant success, and this year's absence of a franchise-type player in the draft makes it less so.


Maryland forward Evers Burns was one of five seniors in last weekend's Portsmouth Invitational who received an invitation to attend the All-Star tournament in Phoenix in two weeks. The Phoenix event is considered a step up in class.

Burns, who made the Portsmouth all-tourney team, will be joined in Phoenix by guards Chris Whitney of Clemson, Darrin Robinson of Sacred Heart and William Davis of James Madison, and forward Ashraf Amaya of Southern Illinois.

Different birds

Danny Ainge, who has played with Larry Bird and Charles Barkley, makes this comparison:

"There's so many similarities in their confidence level and love of the game," said Ainge, a former Celtic now teamed with Barkley in Phoenix. "But Larry works a lot harder on his game than Charles, who hardly ever practices. But Charles enjoys being Charles a lot more than Larry enjoyed being Larry."

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