You could almost hear NBA executives breathing a sigh of relief Sunday after the annual draft lottery when the Houston Rockets were awarded the No. 1 pick in next month's NBA draft.
The Chicago Bulls will get the No. 2 pick, which means the league will be saved from general manager Jerry Krause tormenting everyone with offers of the No. 1 draft pick and 7-foot-5-inch center Yao Ming.
The Rockets, perhaps the ideal team for the huge center from China, almost certainly will take Yao and leave probably the best player in the draft, Duke point guard Jay Williams, for the Bulls.
Jamal Crawford may not care for the choice, but it's terrific for the Bulls. It gives them a potential leader, scorer and ballhandler to go along with Jalen Rose. And it gives them someone to grow with and get the ball to Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.
This probably doesn't make the Bulls a playoff team next season. That should give them a shot at Ohio schoolboy legend LaBron James. But come 2003-04, you can almost hear the chants: "Seventh place, here we come."
Krause needs to go on vacation until the day after the June 26 draft, let someone pick Williams, and get the Bulls two solid, veteran role players to support what looks like a very talented young team.
Getting the No. 1 pick for the Bulls might have proven a disaster because Krause then could have outthought himself and taken Yao, thereby pushing the Bulls' rebuilding back another four years.
But Yao is the ideal choice for the Rockets, whose last No. 1 overall pick was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. The Rockets play in the West, where every contender has a great inside player and considerable size. The Rockets' power forward is 6-5 Kenny Thomas. Houston has terrific perimeter players in Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Moochie Norris. They can play 2001 draft pick Eddie Griffin, essentially a perimeter threat, at small forward. They're getting Maurice Taylor, a poor-rebounding power forward, back from injury.
The Rockets must surrender their No. 1 pick next season to Memphis from the Francis trade, and they move into a new arena after next season. So they have two years to develop Yao.
It's ideal for him and perfect for them. And the Bulls fall into the player most ready to produce, Williams.
It's a month away, but here's how draft day 2002 should go:
1. Rockets, Yao Ming, 7-5 center. A tall Texas tale for now.
2. Bulls, Jay Williams, 6-2 guard. We're back, baby! Best Bulls point guard since Norm Van Lier. First true one since Guy Rodgers.
3. Warriors, Drew Gooden, 6-10 forward. Next-best talent.
4. Grizzlies, Mike Dunleavy, 6-9 forward. Probably will cost them a player like Brevin Knight, so the Warriors skip him.
5. Nuggets, Caron Butler, 6-7 forward. Tough. Looks like an NBA player.
6. Cavaliers, Dajuan Wagner, 6-3 guard. Someone to complement Andre Miller.
7. Knicks, Curtis Borchard, 7-0 center. He's no Patrick Ewing.
8. Clippers (from Hawks), Chris Marcus, 7-1 center. Take that, Michael Olowokandi.
9. Suns, Chris Wilcox, 6-10 forward. Athletic talent who could move up in workouts.
10. Heat, Qyntel Woods, 6-9 guard. Troubled background but great talent.
11. Wizards, Jared Jeffries, 6-10 forward. Best they could get because they won too many games with Michael Jordan.
12. Clippers, Frank Williams, 6-3 guard. More cheap youngsters after letting veterans go.
13. Bucks, Melvin Ely, 6-10 forward. Continuing to make up for Anthony Mason signing.
14. Pacers, Maybyner Hilario, 6-9 forward. More inside help.
15. Rockets, Marcus Haislip, 6-10 forward. Inside help for Yao.
16. 76ers, Juan Dixon, 6-3 guard. Need scoring.
17. Hornets, Casey Jacobsen, 6-6 forward. New Orleans likes good scoring guards.
18. Magic, Amare Stoudamire, 6-9 forward. Team needs size and toughness, though he's a high schooler.
19. Jazz, Dan Dickau, 6-0 guard. The Gonzaga tradition continues.
20. Raptors, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, 6-11 guard. Possibly the prodigy they lost when Tracy McGrady got away.
21. Trail Blazers, Jiri Welsch, 6-6 guard. Protection at point in case Damon Stoudamire goes to jail.
22. Suns, Carlos Boozer of Juneau, 6-9 forward. Suns need someone who might fight back.
23. Pistons, Bostjan Nachbar, 6-9 forward. My kingdom for someone who can score.
24. Nets, Smoosh Parker, 6-4 guard. Jason Kidd going into final contract year and the opportunity to say "Smoosh."
25. Nuggets, Kareem Rush, 6-6 guard. They just need everything.
26. Spurs, Dan Gadzuric, 6-11 center. David Robinson is nearing the end.
27. Lakers, Jamal Sampson, 6-11 forward. Some size up front for the future.
28. Kings, Rod Grizzard, 6-8 forward. Injured, but considered a good prospect.
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