Finally, Something Right in Clipperdom

Having struggled to predict how this draft would go, we're returning to what we do best, hindsight.

* Best choice: Michael Olowokandi, Clippers.

Mike Bibby wanted to be a Clipper. His agent, David Falk, wanted him to be a Clipper. The Clippers wanted him to be a Clipper. The local fans, who knew Olowokandi only as a jumble of syllables, expected him to be a Clipper.

Then Baylor worked out Olowokandi and there went his next three weeks. Baylor went right to draft day, sweating bullets, running videotape of Olowokandi, wondering how he was going to keep from taking him and how he'd explain it if he did.

"You're thinking about point guard, center," Baylor said, "but when I got him [Olowokandi] in, you could see the improvement, just from the end of this season. I said, 'Wait a minute."

Bibby is a very nice prospect but the elite young point guards are bigger like Jason Kidd, or stronger like Stephon Marbury, or more explosive like Allen Iverson.

Olowokandi is 6-11 3/4 in his stocking feet, weighs a solid 269 pounds and has a 92-inch wing span. He's fluid. He has offensive moves, having already been to Pete Newell's big man's camp and plans to return this summer.

With a few years of experience and none at the major college level, he's less than a blue-chip prospect but more than a project. Next season, the Clippers may feel like celebrating when he doesn't get his third foul before halftime, but he could become as good as Dikembe Mutombo, which would make it a great pick.

For the Clippers, the exciting thing is, Olokowandi could turn out to be better. For a franchise that suited up Benoit Benjamin, Stanley Roberts, Kevin Duckworth, Dwayne Schintzius and Stojko Vrankovic in the '90s, that's saying something.

* Most frustrated agent--Falk.

Tuesday he had lunch with Clipper owner Donald T. Sterling, making a last plea to get him to take Bibby. Wednesday he was calling teams all over, urging them to trade up to No. 2 to take Bibby, suggesting that if they did, he'd be more amenable to delivering them one of his free agents.

Falk, the marketing genius, wanted to keep his client in the lower 48 states. Congratulations to all involved for telling him go sit on his hat.

* Comeback of the year--Dallas Maverick General Manager Don Nelson.

Fresh from triumphs like his Golden State implosion and restocking the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Shawn Bradley, Nellie parlayed this season's No. 6 pick and next year's No. 1 and wound up with the 6-11 German winderkind Dirk Nowitzki and highly-regarded point guard Steve Nash. It's the kind of far-sighted move that made Nelson's mentor, Red Auerbach.

* Worst move--For two years, the Suns told everyone how much they loved Nash, how they couldn't ever think of parting with him, etc . . . They just let him go for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells (not Bonzi Wells who's better) and next year's Mavericks No. 1 pick, which should be in the lottery, but in a draft that looks even weaker than this one. Jerry Colangelo may be paying too much attention to his Diamondbacks to watch what son Bryan is doing with the family hoopers.

* Worst luck--Paul Pierce.

He was regarded as one of the most talented players in the draft, with Nowitzki and Vince Carter. Then Denver went big for Raef Lafrentz, Carter went up to Toronto, Dallas went for the future pick, Nowitzki, Sacramento went for the the darkhorse, Jason Williams, and suddenly Pierce was all the way to Boston at No. 10.

On the other hand, the Celtics are short of players and Pierce can play small forward for Rick Pitino so everything may still work out.

* Biggest move up--Jason Williams.

Tossed off the Florida team at mid-season for the usual undisclosed "violations," he won General Managers' hearts in workouts, thrilling them with his athleticism and charming them with his candor. At the end, the Orlando Magic was going to take him at No. 12. The Lakers were trying to trade up to take him at No. 11. The Sacramento Kings beat everyone by taking him seventh.

"He told me, 'I just don't like going to school," says King personnel director Jerry Reynolds of their visit.

"I told him, 'Last time I looked, you won't have to do that here."

* Most profitable paperwork award--Utah didn't want its No. 29 pick, preferring to save money to offer Ike Austin. So they drafted Mohammed and traded him to the 76ers for a future No. 1 pick, which could be, of course, in the lottery.

* Shoulda stayed in school award, college division--Nazr Mohammed. Was supposed to go in the lottery. Dropped to No. 29. With one more year at Kentucky, he would have been an easy top 10 pick.

* Shoulda stayed in school, prep division--Rashard Lewis. The home-town Houston Rockets must have told him they'd take him, since they told everyone else. Instead, he fell off the first round, meaning no no-cut contract. Even if he goes to school and becomes a four-time All-American, he'll come out as a second-round choice of the Seattle SuperSonics.

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