By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Even Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund has trouble fathoming the impact high school star LeBron James would have on his team.
"Boy, do I want to find out!" Gund said Thursday, two weeks before the NBA draft lottery where James will be the coveted top prize for 13 teams.
After finishing the season tied with the Denver Nuggets for the league's worst record, the Cavaliers have a 22.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick. They'll also have a 20.3 percent chance of getting the second pick and a 17.6 percent chance of picking third.
No matter which way the ping-pong balls drop May 22, Cleveland can do no worse than No. 5.
"And that's the best (highest) pick we will have had since 1986," said Gund, who will represent the Cavaliers on stage in Secaucus, N.J., for the lottery's prime time TV telecast. "We'd love to have the first pick, and we all know who that will be."
That would be James, the 18-year-old star from Akron who could transform Cleveland into one of the league's hot spots and save a franchise that's seemingly in decay.
Gund, who in addition to preparing for the lottery is also searching for a head coach, understands James' enormous potential.
"I think he could do a great deal, both short and long term," Gund said. "Clearly in the short term because he's home grown and all of that. He would instantly help us a great deal to bring fans into the building. Over the long term, he appears to have terrific potential and should realize that."
So what happens if the Cavs don't win the lottery? After all, there is a 77.5 percent chance of that happening.
"If we can't have No. 1, we'd like No. 2," Gund quipped.
Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to an NCAA title as a freshman this season, and Serbian star Darko Milicic likely will be the two players taken after James.
While neither would boost the Cavs' image or home attendance like James, both players appear to be good fits into Cleveland's young roster. The Cavs were the NBA's youngest team last season.
Gund has not discounted the possibility of getting a quality player at No. 4 or 5, either.
"Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were all No. 5s," Gund said. "We feel very confident there will be a player there to help us."
Gund, who reiterated he is not selling or moving the Cavs, said if Cleveland doesn't get one of the top three picks, another option would be to trade its selection or package it with players in a deal to get some quality veterans.
Cleveland's coaching search might also be affected by the outcome of the draft lottery.
The chance to coach James or Anthony could entice some high-profile coaches to contact the Cavs and broaden the club's current list of candidates.
Gund said he is in the initial stages of the coaching search, but has not yet conducted any interviews. The Cavaliers fired John Lucas after 42 games last season and replaced him on an interim basis with assistant Keith Smart.
Smart is one of several candidates on the Cavs' wish list, which may also include former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and Paul Silas, who was fired by New Orleans last week.
Interestingly, Van Gundy's name was the only one Gund brought up during a 40-minute interview.
"This (coaching search) is the highest priority right now for the franchise," said Gund, who plans to work closely with general manager Jim Paxson to find the team's next coach. "This decision is one of the most important since I acquired the team 20 years ago."
Getting a coach in place quickly isn't important to Gund, who hopes to have one in place by the June 26 draft.
"We want to name our basketball coach as soon as we have the right person," he said. "We're trying not to let any time deadline drive us. We really want it to be the right choice."