June 25, 2002 at 4:37 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 4:15 PM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - According to the, ahem, experts, this week's NBA draft has five can't-miss, impact players who should contribute right away as rookies.
The "Fab" Five of Chinese center Yao Ming, Duke point guard Jay Williams and forward Mike Dunleavy, Kansas forward Drew Gooden and Connecticut forward Caron Butler, could all be future stars.
The Cleveland Cavaliers own the No. 6 pick.
Figures. Yet another set of fang marks on one of the league's most snake-bitten franchises.
"There's always a Fab Five," Cavs general manager Jim Paxson mused, "when you're picking sixth."
However, despite another strike of perceived bad luck, Paxson feels the Cavaliers, who went 29-53 last season and are rumored to be on the selling block, can find a player who can help.
"I still feel good about our pick," Paxson said last week. "I still feel confident that we're going to get a good player."
Maybe even one better than good, especially if the team packages guard Andre Miller in a trade.
Houston is apparently set on taking the 7-foot-5 Ming with the No. 1 overall pick, and Williams is reportedly already house shopping in Chicago -- the Bulls pick second. Dunleavy appears to be headed to Golden State at No. 3.
That's when the uncertainty begins, and when the Cavs could enter the picture.
Memphis (No. 4), Denver (No. 5) and Cleveland are all looking for the same thing -- an athletic, frontline player who can step in and get playing time right away.
Several players fill that description with the top ones being Kansas forward Drew Gooden, Maryland forward Chris Wilcox, Brazilian center Maybyner Hilario and center Nikoloz Tskitishvili, a slim, 19-year-old 7-footer from the Republic of Georgia who played in Italy last season.
Last week, Paxson said the Cavs had narrowed their selection to six players and indicated Gooden, Wilcox and Tskitishvili (Ski-tis-vee-lee) were in that group.
Paxson thinks there will be "a lot of activity" at the top part of the draft and the Cavs have considered trading their highest pick since 1986.
"I'm not just set on it," he said. "I'm not sure we can get a deal (to move up) but we're open to anything. We could trade up, trade back or look at future picks or to a player that can help us now and maybe move some players that aren't part of our future."
One's thing certain: the Cavs cannot make a mistake.
Cleveland's top pick last year, center DeSagana Diop, the eighth overall pick, played in just 18 games because of injuries and looked completely lost in most of his time on the floor.
Paxson was criticized for taking Diop, but still feels the selection was a good one.
"Down the road he will contribute," Paxson said. "We knew from the beginning that he was a project."
While planning for the draft, the Cavs brought in five players for individual workouts with the 6-foot-7 Butler, who averaged 20.3 points for UConn last season, the only "Fab Five" member to visit Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Miller, the Cavs' best player, could be on his way out of town.
The third-year point guard, who led the NBA in assists last season, is eligible for a contract extension next month and his agent has told the team that Miller wants a maximum deal.
The Cavs seem reluctant to "max out" on Miller, who will be a restricted free agent after next season, and they could trade him.
Whatever they decide to do will be scrutinized from several angles. They're entering the draft with reports saying that owner Gordon Gund is selling the team.
Gund, who has owned the franchise since 1983, is said to be shopping for a favorable bid. Cleveland's sagging attendance -- a 14-year low in the 2001-02 season -- and three straight 50-loss seasons have prompted Gund to consider a sale.
Paxson said Gund has been involved in planning for this draft "pretty much the same as he always does."
If the Cavs trade Miller, Wesley Person or Lamond Murray -- and their contracts -- on Wednesday, it could be further proof that Gund is indeed getting out.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)