THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Picking O’Neal Was Easy: Now Comes Tough Part


The only thing that lasts longer than the NBA season is this column.

We’ll take a look back at the draft and put it to sleep for the summer.

1. Orlando--Shaquille O’Neal. All they have to do with the next Wilt is sign him, which means jettisoning a bunch of veterans for salary-cap room. Restricted free agent Stanley Roberts will draw heavy offers (Dallas, Miami) and the Magic may have to let him go, too.

2. Charlotte--Alonzo Mourning. The Hornets have cap trouble, too, so J.R. Reid is available, even after his comeback last season.

3. Minnesota--Christian Laettner. Comparisons to Danny Ferry are laughable. He’ll be a big-timer.


4. Dallas--Jim Jackson. OK, it’s ridiculous to call him the next Oscar Robertson, but people are struck by the similarity in style and court maturity. Another big-timer-in-waiting.

5. Denver--LaPhonso Ellis. Made a huge, late move without playing in a postseason tournament. “I like him a lot,” said a rival general manager who had hoped he’d drop. “He’s a hard worker who pursues every rebound, not just the ones that come to him. Smart. People think he can’t shoot but I think he can.”

6. Washington--Tom Gugliotta. Nice-looking player. Entered North Carolina State as a guard, grew to 6 feet 9, can still handle the ball and shoot from outside and is no finesse player underneath.

7. Sacramento--Walt Williams. No obvious spot for him with Lionel Simmons and Mitch Richmond there, but everyone likes him. If Garry St. Jean installs a Golden State motion offense, maybe the Kings can get away with him at the point.

8. Milwaukee--Todd Day. Mike Dunleavy wanted Williams, but will be all right if Day stays out of trouble.

9. Philadelphia--Clarence Weatherspoon. Charles Barkley clone, body-wise, anyway. Has a lot to live up to but could be OK.

10. Atlanta--Adam Keefe. A gift from the gods. When he started dropping, Don Nelson offered Sarunas Marciulionis to Milwaukee to get him and made offers to the 76ers and Hawks, too.


11. Houston--Robert Horry. The first pick that other general managers aren’t sure about. Questions about his attitude, with blue chips Harold Miner and Bryant Stith on the board.

12. Miami--Miner. The Heat feels as if it made the playoffs and the lottery, too. “If you have to slip, this is a good place to slip to,” Miner said, swallowing his disappointment.

13. Denver--Stith. Lakers loved him.

14. Indiana--Malik Sealy. He can play, but at 6-6, 192, there may not be enough of him. “You watch films and even at the college level, he’s getting knocked around,” a general manager says.

15. Lakers--Anthony Peeler. Jerry West, who wrote the book on general managing post-Red Auerbach, puts it all on the line, a reflection of the Laker situation as much as anything else. The play-it-safe, good-citizens-only days are over. Now they need an explosive player to revive the offense and fill the seats.

16. Clippers--Randy Woods. Admirers compare him to Tim Hardaway, another smurf with a big chest and a scorer’s swagger. People loved Woods in the 20s but aren’t sure about him this high.

17. Seattle--Doug Christie. Questions about his knee--he was originally No. 1 on the Laker list--but he’s perfect for the SuperSonics’ pressing, motion game. “I didn’t like this draft at all,” Coach George Karl said. “Then the Clippers took Randy Woods and I still can’t believe it. I keep wondering when this honeymoon will end.”


18. San Antonio--Tracy Murray. He’s ticketed for Milwaukee in a deal for Dale Ellis--and then will be dealt to Portland for Alaa Abdelnaby. Welcome to pro ball, Traceroo.

19. Detroit--Don MacLean. Already dealt to the Clippers for Larry Brown’s un-favorite, Olden Polynice. For a guy who slipped, a lot of general managers like MacLean.

20. New York--Hubert Davis. With the deal for Rolando Blackman, a great day for the Knicks.

21. Boston--Jon Barry. The tipoff on the Celtic generation gap is that he was a Golden State ballboy when Robert Parish played for the Warriors.

22. Phoenix--Oliver Miller. At 315 pounds, down from 329, there are still skeptics.

23. Milwaukee--Lee Mayberry. Described as a safe pick, not spectacular.

24. Golden State--Latrell Sprewell. With all the general managers talking about taking “the best player available,” it’s nice to see someone actually do it.

25. Clippers--Elmore Spencer. The final tally on the Ferry deal is Danny and Reggie Williams (now in Denver) to Cleveland for Spencer, Loy Vaught and Ron Harper.


26. Portland--Dave Johnson. Just what the Trail Blazers needed, another athlete.

27. Chicago--Byron Houston. Jerry Krause, world’s shortest general manager at 5-2, drafts Houston, world’s shortest power forward at 6-4.


The teams that made out:

Orlando--If Shaq signs on the dotted line. He’s there, looking the town over now.

Charlotte--Mourning says he won’t give them a hard time in negotiations. Remember, they had the seventh-worst record and pulled out the second Ping-Pong ball.

Utah--The Jazz got Jay Humphries and Larry Krystkowiak for Blue Edwards, Eric Murdock and their pick. Formerly six deep, the Jazz now has eight quality players.

Phoenix--Adding Charles Barkley is a coup if you can live with the price and the Suns might be able to.

New York Knicks--Needing firepower, they get Rolando Blackman for a 1995 draft pick and a fine prospect in Davis. Say goodby to Gerald Wilkins.

Denver--With Ellis and Stith, the Nuggets are a point guard away from respectability. They will try Mark Macon there. Good luck.


Milwaukee--Dunleavy said he was only going to coach, but he’s de facto general manager, too. The Bucks, wanting to get younger and more athletic, have already added Day, Mayberry, Edwards and Murdock and will get Abdelnaby. All are 26 or younger.


How close did the Lakers come to making that deal for Hakeem Olajuwon? The Houston Chronicle quotes a source as saying the deal was done but couldn’t be made because of the technicality that put Vlade Divac on the books at last season’s pay, $975,000, rather than this season’s $3 million. . . . The Rockets are still reportedly interested in trading Hakeem, but the Lakers may be out of it. Divac stays on the books at his current salary unless the Lakers can get under the salary cap--and they are at $17 million, $3 million more than the new cap. “It’s almost impossible,” Jerry West said, “unless we trade very highly paid players for draft picks.”

Ro for 0: In last-minute talks before the midseason trading deadline, the Mavericks turned down the Knicks’ No. 1 pick in ’92 for Rolando Blackman, whereupon Knick boss Dave Checketts reportedly yelled at the Mavericks’ Rick Sund: “You’re the worst . . . GM in the league!” Sund wound up trading Blackman to the Knicks--for their No. 1 pick in ‘95, maintaining he “held out” for it “because that could really be a great class.” . . Says the Dallas Morning News’ David Moore: “The Mavs are working on trading Reunion Arena for $24 and a bunch of beads.” No problem: The Mavericks will retire Blackman’s No. 22, so they asked Jim Jackson to take another number. He chose No. 24, which is safe. It belonged to Mark Aguirre. . . . Waiting for Harold: Atlanta fans booed when the Hawks passed up Harold Miner for Adam Keefe. Said Keefe, taking the worldly view appropriate to a Stanford grad: “Out of a city of 2.1 million, if I only tee off three or four hundred, I’m going to be a very happy guy.”

The Rockets, choosing next, asked fans to signal their affections for Bryant Stith, Robert Horry and Tracy Murray. All drew polite applause. The Rockets asked about Miner and fans gave him a standing ovation. The Rockets then drafted Horry, to more boos. Rocket General Manager Steve Patterson, once more finding a silver lining: “The fans only know what we tell them. I thought we did a pretty good job of keeping our pick quiet.”