NBA draft fun will begin with No. 4 pick

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

NEW YORK - The fun starts at No. 4 in the NBA draft, with all eyes focused on the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat to see whether they'll stand pat, trade down or swap picks with each other.

The draft begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT, but it might not be all that interesting right away.

The first three picks are all but set in stone: Cleveland taking high school phenom LeBron James at No. 1, Detroit choosing Serbian 7-footer Darko Milicic at No. 2, and Denver selecting Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony at No. 3.

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Then, who knows?

''I think there are going to be a lot of trades,'' Marquette junior Dwyane Wade said Wednesday, ''From (picks) four to 13, they don't know what they want to do yet.''

Last year's draft unfolded slowly, but before the night was over there were 11 trades made - six of them involving first-round picks from the 16th slot to No. 29.

There were seven draft-night trades two years ago, the biggest of which sent Elton Brand from Chicago to the Clippers for Tyson Chandler. A year earlier, there were eight deals.

One of the most lopsided draft night deals in recent history came in 1998 when the Dallas Mavericks sent the sixth pick, Robert Traylor, to Milwaukee for the rights to the ninth and 19th picks - Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity.

Detroit owns the No. 2 pick because of a horrible deal made six years ago by NBA vice president Stu Jackson when he was general manager of the Grizzlies, sending a future first-rounder to the Pistons for veteran Otis Thorpe, who spent only a half-season in Vancouver.

Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald has been entertaining offers that would help him revamp his roster following a disappointing 24-58 season.

''I'm happy to stay at four,'' Grunwald said, ''but we have a couple of holes to fill and there might be another way to do it.''

Georgia Tech forward Chris Bosh and Texas point guard T.J. Ford are among the Raptors' top choices if they keep the pick, and the Miami Heat will choose fifth.

The Los Angeles Clippers select sixth, followed by the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Washington Wizards.

Picks 11-15 belong to Golden State, Seattle, Memphis, Seattle and Orlando.

Looking ahead to the moment when he steps onstage and shakes the hand of commissioner David Stern, James said it will be the most significant night of his career - the moment he knew he was moving toward even before he finished his junior year of high school.

''All of the things that happened before the draft is nothing compared to tomorrow,'' James said.

The league brought 13 of the top prospects to a Manhattan hotel for the annual interview session, three of whom received the star treatment just a few hours after they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Unlike past years, the league had the three top picks - Anthony, Milicic and James - speak at a formal news conference.

Anthony went first, saying he was underrated, admitting he had never seen Milicic play and revealing that his sneaker endorsement deal with Nike would be worth $18 million to $20 million over five years.

Milicic took the stage second, answering questions in Serbian even though he clearly understood plenty of English - not even waiting for his translator to relate several of the questions before beginning his answers.

He said he has been a big fan of the Sacramento Kings, ''like 90 percent of Yugoslavia,'' admitted he had never seen James play and said he already visited Pistons center Zeljko Rebraca and dined with coach Larry Brown and team president Joe Dumars to prepare for his move to Detroit.

James took the stage last, providing thoughtful answers to many questions but ducking anything remotely controversial.

He said he loved every minute of the recently completed NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets, the lowest-rated since the Nielsen ratings service began using the current method 27 years ago.

James also wouldn't be baited into debating the merits of the league's desire to set a minimum age of 20.

''David Stern is the head of this league. Whatever decisions he's going to make, I'm going to support it,'' said the 18-year-old James, who will become the second player in league history selected first overall directly out of high school.