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No. 1 Duncan Leaves the Rest in His Wake

They’re holding an old-fashioned NBA draft today. Well, for one pick, anyway.

After the San Antonio Spurs take Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan, the only incoming rookie sure to make an impact in this century, everyone else starts on the New Draft, in which teams select unfinished prospects who serve three-year apprenticeships, become free agents and then get to do their own selecting.

Duncan, measured at 6 feet 11 in his bare feet at the Chicago pre-draft camp, arrives with a game more polished than any draftee’s in the ‘90s, a startling leap for a youth who didn’t start playing until he was a ninth grader in his native Virgin Islands.

He’s expected to help David Robinson make the Spurs an elite team again. Or Robinson will help him. Either way, the Spurs should get there.

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“Duncan is like David Robinson,” Indiana Pacer President Donnie Walsh says, “but he’s better.

“He went into the ACC with all those big guys [Rasheed Wallace at North Carolina, Joe Smith at Maryland] and then he came out of nowhere, blocking shots. I went to the ACC tournament when he was a freshman and he was killing those guys, but he had no other part to his game.

“The next year, he looked like Bill Walton in the post.”

Every draft has its drop-off point. This spring, it comes at No. 2.

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The rest of these players are the best of what remained in school after the youth invasion of the last four drafts when two seniors--J.R. Rider in 1993, Grant Hill in 1994--and 18 undergraduates were among the four top fives.

“It probably is not going to go down in the books as one of the all-time great drafts,” Toronto Raptor scouting director Jim Kelly says diplomatically.

“I hear a lot of teams are going to follow Chicago’s footprints: Take a pick and renounce it.”

That’s what the Bulls did last season, drafting Travis Knight with the last pick on the first round, and, when he refused their request to play in Europe, releasing him--to sign with the Lakers as a free agent--rather than paying him $600,000 a year.

With players arriving so young, the draft has become a sideshow to the real action, the free-agent signing period that opens July 1. Last summer, stars such as Shaquille O’Neal changed teams and redrew the balance of power.

This year’s class is modest--Brian Williams, Dennis Rodman, et al--but teams are busily clearing cap room for next summer’s, which may include Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, Terrell Brandon, Antonio McDyess, Joe Smith and Jerry Stackhouse.

In last week’s Boston Celtic-Philadelphia 76er deal, Celtic Coach Rick Pitino dumped Dino Radja’s three-year, $15.9-million contract for Clarence Weatherspoon and Michael Cage, both on the last season of their deals, intending to shop till he dropped in ’98.

With the 6-11 Radja in hand, 76er Coach Larry Brown was going to indulge himself by drafting a point guard, Colorado’s Chauncey Billups, and moving Allan Iverson off the ball.

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However, Radja failed his 76er physical, voiding the deal and sending everyone back to the drawing board.

By the last weekend before the draft, the top five picks are usually set. This year, a day before, only the top one is set.

The 76ers at No. 2 want size. The Celtics at No. 3 want a do-over on the lottery to see if they can get Duncan, or, failing that, Billups. The Cavaliers and Pacers, among others, are trying to trade up. About 10 teams want to trade down.

The Bulls and Celtics are discussing a Pippen trade. As further suggestion of how willing it is to bust up its championship team, Bull management is offering Luc Longley and Jason Caffey around for a chance to move up.

One local note: UCLA’s Charles O’Bannon, who looked like a first-round pick a month ago when he made the all-tournament team at the Desert Classic and was invited to work out by teams choosing as high as No. 12 Indiana, may have slipped off the first round.

“I loved him as a kid,” the Pacers’ Walsh said, “but with Charles, the question is what position can he play in the pros?”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NBA DRAFT

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* When: Today

* Where: Charlotte, N.C.

* TV: TNT, 4:30 p.m.

* Clippers: Draft No. 14 in first round

* Lakers: No first-round picks. Pick at No. 52 and 54 in second round.

Second Round

30. Houston (from Vancouver)

31. Miami (from Boston)

32. Detroit (from San Antonio)

33. Denver

34. Philadelphia

35. Dallas

36. Philadelphia (from New Jersey)

37. Philadelphia (from Toronto)

38. Golden State

39. Milwaukee

40. Sacramento

41. Seattle (from Clippers)

42. Denver (from Indiana)

43. Phoenix

44. Minnesota

45. Cleveland

46. Washington

47. Orlando

48. Portland

49. Washington (from Charlotte)

50. Atlanta (from Detroit)

51. Atlanta

52. Lakers

53. Vancouver (from Houston)

54. Lakers (from New York)

55. Seattle

56. Boston (from Miami)

57. Utah

58. Chicago

Note: Washington forfeited its 1997 first-round pick in connection with its signing of Juwan Howard. Washington would have had the 17th pick. The numbers of the picks referred to above reflect that forfeiture.


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