Lottery leaves Bulls sitting pretty

Seconds before network television returned from the final commercial break at Sunday's NBA draft lottery, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause folded his hands in a prayerful position and looked skyward.

Chinese center Yao Ming is 7 feet 5 inches. Draw your own conclusion.

Actually, Krause will have his conclusion drawn for him come the June 26 draft. Houston cashed in a meager 8.9 percent chance to vault from the fifth-worst record to the first overall pick and left as the jackpot winners of the lottery.

The Bulls, who shared with Golden State a league-best 22.5 percent chance to win the annual losers bowl, settled for its 20.3 percent chance and will draft second.

Golden State dropped badly for the second straight year and, despite tying the Bulls with a league-worst 21-61 mark, left with the third pick.

Yao and Duke point guard Jay Williams are the players most often mentioned as candidates for the first two picks.

The Rockets' starting center is unheralded veteran Kelvin Cato. Oh, and one other thing.

"I know we definitely don't need help at the point-guard position," said All-Star point guard Steve Francis, who represented the Rockets at Sunday's proceedings.

In other words, if Houston owns the No. 1 pick, the Bulls at least have to be considered owners of pick No. 1A.

Krause and Houston general manager Carroll Dawson likely will entertain and initiate trade talks as draft day approaches. But if no deals are made, the pressure is off Krause to decide between Yao and Williams. Duke swingman Mike Dunleavy is another possibility to sneak into the top two picks.

"The thing I was concerned about was falling to fourth or fifth," Krause said. "We have more flexibility now and we can go in several different directions. No matter what, we're going to get a very good player."

The Bulls were one of two teams, along with the Knicks, to meet privately with Yao after his workout for league personnel at Loyola University on May 1. Yao arrived at the Berto Center late on May 2, and he merely toured the facility and had his measurements taken.

But Krause scouted Yao personally in China, and team sources say he is enamored of the 21-year-old. Unless Houston swings a deal with a team dying to draft Williams, Krause may not get a shot at Yao.

Chinese government and national team officials have expressed the hope that Yao lands in a city with a large Asian population to ease his transition. According to census records, Houston has a 5.3 percent Asian population, making it the eighth-largest Asian community in the country.

Whether or not the Bulls would feel comfortable drafting Williams with Jamal Crawford set to take the reins at point guard remains to be seen. That decision also will affect free agent Travis Best's future. But some in the organization believe Williams is an NBA-ready point guard and Crawford is versatile enough to play either guard position.

The Bulls also could find a team that wants whomever Houston leaves of Yao and Williams and trade the pick for a veteran.

"If somebody calls and makes us a good offer, there's no guarantee that we'll keep the pick," Krause said. "That phone will be ringing. And it will be answered."

With their draft position set, the Bulls will begin individual workouts at the Berto Center. Expect Memphis freshman Dajuan Wagner and Maryland sophomore Chris Wilcox in by the end of the week.

Now that they have a top-two pick, expect all top prospects in sometime before the draft.

Not since 1990 has a team with the worst regular-season record won the lottery. For Houston fans out there, the Ping-Pong balls with Nos. 4, 8, 11 and 13 proved the lucky combination.

A Bulls front-office employee took Krause's habit of carrying lucky pennies to another level and framed one from 1909 and one from 1939—the birth years of Krause and his father.

It didn't work all the way. It might've worked enough.

"Now the trick is to get out of here and not be here next year," Krause said.

"That's all you think of as you sit here."