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NBA lottery has new meaning for West

SECAUCUS, N.J., May 18 (UPI) -- Jerry West used to count championship banners. Soon he'll be counting ping-pong balls.

In his former job as vice president of the Los Angeles Lakers, West had very little need for the NBA draft lottery, which will be held Sunday night.

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He built a pair of dynasties, one winning five titles in the 1980s and the other in its current run as two-time defending champions. If the Lakers had a first-round pick at all, it usually came very late.

But,in his new role as president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, West has a keen interest in how the balls are drawn from the drum.

The woebegone Grizzlies, who never have won more than 23 games in their brief history, are one of 13 teams that have a chance at the top pick in the NBA draft through the lottery.

West used to be hard to find at this time of year. While with the Lakers, he often would remain at home during playoff games, finding them too stressful to watch. On the occasions where he did attend, he would remain in the recesses of the arena, close enough to see the game while trying not to be seen.

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But, West will be in plain view at the NBA Entertainment Studios in Secaucus. He will represent the Grizzlies, who now have one of the top executives in NBA history running their club.

There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and those being considered come in all sizes. If you want a guard, there is Duke's Jay Williams. If you need a wing player, there is Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- Williams' college teammate -- or junior

college player Qyntel Woods.

And if it is a center you desire, there is 7-5 Yao Ming of China, who comes with all sorts of contingencies but may be too big to ignore.

"For a guy this size, he can shoot the ball," West said after Yao's workout for GMs and scouts earlier this month. "He has a wonderful feel for the game. This is not a kid without talent. He has talent."

However, West and the Grizzlies were denied an individual workout by Yao's handlers, who want their unpolished diamond to play in a city with a large Asian American population. Yao did hold private workouts for New York and Chicago, both of whom need a

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center.

That's only part of the problem with Yao. He is a member of the Chinese national team and would have to return to his homeland -- even during the NBA regular season -- to play in international competition. He also has to give up to one-half his salary to the Chinese government.

And that does not even begin to address his shortcomings on the court. He is just 236 pounds, a weight more suited to small forward than center. He is not as good a shot-blocker as one would expect for someone his size. And there are questions about his defensive mobility.

However, with the increased influx of international and high school players, the NBA draft is no longer a place where you can find immediate help for your team. Witness Kwame Brown, the high school player who was chosen first overall by Washington last year and averaged a paltry 4.5 points per game.

The Grizzlies have a checkered draft history. They have been in the lottery every year since their inception in 1995 but do not have much to show for it.

Their first pick was Bryant Reeves, who retired last season with chronic back and knee problems. In 1996, they actually won the lottery but were not eligible to receive the first pick, missing out on Allen Iverson.

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In 1998, they drafted Steve Francis, who declared he would not play in Canada (the team was in Vancouver at the time), forcing a trade. They have selected Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, but traded both of them last summer.

Last year, former General Manager Billy Knight began building a foundation by acquiring forwards Pau Gasol and Shane Battier in the draft. Gasol won Rookie of the Year and Battier made the All-Rookie Team, but the Grizzlies still won just 23 games, and Knight was let go.

This year's lottery has some of the usual cast of characters, plus some teams who have not been in this position in some time.

At the top are the perennial entrants are the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors, who tied for the worst record in the NBA this season at 21-61. Behind them is Memphis.

Those three teams have the best chance of receiving the top pick, but the lottery doesn't always work that way. In fact, it rarely does. The Bulls and Warriors were bumped out of the top three picks last year, and the last team with the worst record to receive the first pick was the New Jersey Nets in 1990.

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Fourteen ping-pong balls are placed in a drum. When four are drawn, there are 1,001 possible combinations. The combinations are assigned to teams based on their records.

The Bulls and Warriors each have 225 possible combinations, or a 22.5 percent chance, of winning the lottery. The Grizzlies have 157 combinations, or a 15.7 percent chance.

Three combinations are drawn. If any of those three belong to a team outside the top three, that team goes to the top of the lottery and the remaining teams are placed in inverse order of record.

If form holds, the Grizzlies would pick third. They could pick as high as first or second if one of their combinations is drawn, or no lower than sixth if the combinations of three teams below them are drawn.

Other teams in the lottery are Denver (27-55), Houston (28-54), Cleveland (29-53), New York (30-52), Atlanta (33-49), Phoenix (36-46), Miami (36-46), Washington (37-45), the Los Angeles Clippers (39-43) and Milwaukee (41-41).

As the team with the best record in the lottery, Milwaukee has just five combinations that would vault it to the top pick. The Bucks can only pick first, second, third or 13th.

The lottery has been in place since 1985 and has undergone many changes over the years. It has grown from seven teams having an equal chance at the top pick to 13 having weighted chances.

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Deputy NBA Commissioner Russ Granik will announce the results during halftime of Sunday's Boston-New Jersey game.

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