CHICAGO -- It's been a long time since draft day meant anything for the Chicago Bulls. This year, it means everything.
A year removed from their sixth NBA championship, the Bulls are rebuilding. And the future of the team comes courtesy of a pingpong ball.
With the No. 1 pick in the draft, general manager Jerry Krause can do just about anything. Pick first, and he might get the cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. Trade it for another pick or two, and he's got himself a solid supporting cast.
Either way, what Krause does Wednesday will be the most important move the Bulls have made since picking Michael Jordan third overall in the 1984 draft.
"We have a chance to get some building blocks," Krause said.
The big question, of course, is what Krause is going to do with the pick. He won't say, but the rumors are flying that he's trying to work out a deal.
While Duke's Elton Brand and Maryland's Steve Francis are both excellent players and have impressed teams in their workouts, there isn't a superstar in this year's draft. There's no Tim Duncan, who helped lead his team to the NBA Finals in his second season.
This is a good draft for specific needs, said Stu Jackson, president and general manager for Vancouver, which has the second overall pick.
Need a bruising forward? Brand's your man. Looking for a guard who can do it all with flair? Pick Francis. Want someone to run your offense? UCLA's Baron Davis fits the bill.
But need a player who can work miracles for your struggling team? This might not be your year.
"I don't think there is a franchise player or player who's going to translate into 30 more wins," Jackson said. "Depending on your needs, I think you can get a player who will help your team."
By trading the No. 1 pick, Krause could get the Bulls an additional pick, possibly still in the top 10. Different scenarios have Toronto (No. 3), Charlotte (No. 5) and Washington (No. 7) all trying to trade up, with Toronto and Charlotte wanting a shot at Francis.
If Chicago trades, the Bulls could take Wally Szczerbiak, who reportedly has impressed Krause. But Szczerbiak's stock has been rising, and Chicago has to make sure it doesn't drop too far and lose him. With another pick, the Bulls might try to grab Chicago native Corey Maggette, whose worth has dropped after some less-than-impressive workouts.
"Are we leaning one way or the other? We've had some very interesting conversations," Krause said. "You don't make a decision before you have to. We'll talk or listen to anything."
With six championships in eight years, the Bulls certainly haven't had to deal with lottery picks recently.
Sure, they've had first-round selections, but they've been so far down they were almost irrelevant. Remember Corie Blount? Jason Caffey? Mark Randall?
Their last "important" pick was way back in 1989, when they took Stacey King with the sixth pick overall.
But Chicago is a world away from the team that won the NBA Finals in 1998. With no Jordan, Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman, and no real talent to replace them, Chicago bottomed out quickly. Its 13-37 finish was the worst in team history, and third worst in the NBA this season. Chicago finished 20 games behind Indiana in the Eastern Conference.
But the Bulls caught a break when the first pingpong ball in the draft lottery had their name on it.
"Some idiot said I looked happier when we won the lottery pick than when we won the championships," Krause said. "There's nothing better than winning championships, and my feelings were never suppressed when we won."
The Bulls also have the 16th pick in the first round and the third pick in the second round, No. 32 overall.
But it's what the Bulls do with that first pick that everyone will be watching. The draft is an inexact science, and there's no guarantee the best player will be taken first. Just look at 1984. Hakeem Olajuwon went No. 1, followed by Sam Bowie.
No. 3? A skinny kid out of North Carolina by the name of Jordan.
"Can you afford a miss in this situation? I don't know how deep this draft is," Krause said. "You try to do all you can to reduce that to an exact science, and then a lot of that is gut feeling from the scout and the general manager.
"You're trying to look into a young man's heart," he added. "You can't take an X-ray of his heart and say how much heart is there."
Whatever the Bulls do, it will have a domino effect. Vancouver has talked about trading its pick, but Jackson said he hasn't gotten an offer he likes.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who have the fourth pick, want Davis. He's worked out for the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors, but he's turned down requests from other teams because he wants to stay close to home.
One of the biggest questions of the draft concerns Lamar Odom, who flip-flopped on whether he wanted to leave college.
The Rhode Island star had team executives drooling over his raw talent and power. He's got great ball-handling skills, a nice shot and can play defense. His workout for the Grizzlies impressed Jackson.
"He's an exceptional talent," Jackson said. "He has a great deal of versatility. There's not a whole lot he can't do."
Then Odom began to have second thoughts. He skipped a workout at the pre-draft camp and blew off an interview session for projected top picks. He didn't show up for scheduled workouts with teams and then announced he'd fired his agent and wanted to stay in school.
Rhode Island considered filing an appeal on his behalf but decided not to after a short investigation. So, it appears Odom is back in the draft.
Jackson says he believes he'll end up being taken in the top five.
"He's good enough to take a chance on," Jackson said. "Just because his talent can't be denied."
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