Trade talk heats up as NBA draft nears

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2004

NEW YORK Emeka Okafor sat inside a hotel ballroom completely unaware he was setting a record for most shoulder shrugs. On the day before the NBA draft, Okafor still had no idea where he'll be headed or whether he'll be chosen first or second.

It was a fitting welcome to the world of uncertainty that the NBA has become, with virtually no one untradeable now that Shaquille O'Neal and Tracy McGrady are being shopped.

''Well, there is one guy who won't be traded,'' Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said, making a reference to Tim Duncan.

Personnel managers, team executives and coaches were all part of what felt like a leaguewide caffeine binge Wednesday, the possibility of several imminent blockbuster trades making them as hungry to consume information as they were to disperse disinformation.

For the moment, all eyes were on Orlando general manager John Weisbrod, who holds two of the most important cards McGrady, and the No. 1 pick in Thursday night's draft in what has evolved into a 30-team poker tournament.

Was Weisbrod bluffing Wednesday when he said no deals were imminent?

''There are plenty of deals out there right now'' for both McGrady and the No. 1 pick, Weisbrod said. ''But we're certainly not going to rush anything.

''These are the two biggest chips we have to use to improve a team that was a pretty bad team last year. There's no time pressure. We're going about it as methodically as we can.''

One trade was agreed to Wednesday night, the Dallas Mavericks acquiring the fifth pick in the draft along with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner for Antawn Jamison, sources close to the deal told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

While O'Neal remains the center of the Mavericks' dreams, the fifth pick also gives them the chance to take 7-foot-5 Pavel Podkolzine, a 19-year-old Russian. Podkolzine or the pick also could be part of the package the Mavericks would offer the Los Angeles Lakers for O'Neal.

Weisbrod said there were at least seven teams under consideration for a trade involving McGrady, neglecting to specify whether the Houston Rockets were still one of them.

Houston thought it had the inside track to acquire McGrady for a package of players that included Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, but that deal was looking more and more dead with each passing hour.

The Atlanta Hawks were known to be one of the teams making a push to acquire the No. 1 pick from the Magic.

''We've worked on it diligently,'' general manager Billy Knight said. ''Now, all we can do is sit back and wait. Whatever happens, happens.''

The Hawks would want to select local prep star Dwight Howard with the first pick, which would be just fine with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who seem to be leaning toward Okafor, a 6-10 junior from Connecticut, as their preferred choice at No. 2.

The Bobcats also were trying to find a way to get another first-round pick to put them in position to draft Jameer Nelson of Saint Joseph's.

''There are some other point guards in the mix, also, but Jameer happens to be the player of the year,'' Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. ''If you can get a player like that down in the middle of the (first) round, it's a coup.''

Boston general manager Danny Ainge said he had 14 different trades under consideration depending on how teams use their lottery picks, and the Chicago Bulls were known to be offering Tyson Chandler to a number of teams.

Ainge denied a report that the Celtics were considering swapping Paul Pierce for Chandler and the No. 3 pick in the draft, while Dallas owner Mark Cuban labeled ''false'' a reported offer of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki for O'Neal.

Amid all the trade talk and uncertainty, Okafor arrived in New York and was peppered with questions regarding where he would rather play, Orlando or Charlotte (which hold the first two picks), and whether his gut instinct led him to believe that the Magic would trade the No. 1 pick.

''Trade it? People don't ordinarily trade the first pick,'' Okafor replied.

Then again, the Magic aren't an ordinary team.

Orlando had the overall No. 1 pick in 1993 and used it in a trade, sending Chris Webber to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three future first-round picks.

Orlando also let the top pick from 1992, O'Neal, leave as a free agent four years later a mistake from which the Magic have yet to recover.

''It's still an option,'' Weisbrod said of trading the No. 1 pick. ''We have not made up our minds.''

The Bulls were believed to be interested in drafting Duke freshman Luol Deng with the third pick, which would allow Peoria prep star Shaun Livingston to go fourth to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Things begin to get hazy beginning with the fifth pick, and the remainder of the top 10 barring any trades will be Atlanta, Phoenix, Toronto, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Utah has three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 16 and 21), as does Boston (Nos. 15, 24 and 25). Portland already owns the 13th and 23rd picks and reportedly has agreed to a deal with New Jersey to get No. 22.

Dallas, Minnesota, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and New York do not have first-round picks, and the Bucks traded away their only second-round pick (No. 45) in a deal with the Bobcats on Wednesday in which they acquired forward Zaza Pachulia.



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