Originally created 05/23/01

Hawks pondering options with third pick



ATLANTA -- Atlanta Hawks management has been talking about trading their first round pick for weeks - not wanting to add another youngster to a young team. But that was before their pingpong ball ended up in the third slot of the NBA draft lottery.

With the highest pick in franchise history, the Hawks seem more open to holding onto the selection. But coach Lon Kruger admitted Tuesday that the team still needs to bring in some experienced players.

"Ideally, we'd like to make a couple of trades to fill some needs before the draft and then keep the pick, but it remains to be seen if that will happen," he said.

With 75 players entering the draft early, most of the top selections will be youngsters, including a handful of high school players.

Kwame Brown, from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, and fellow high-schoolers Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler figure to go in the top five, along with Eddie Griffin, who left Seton Hall after his freshman year. Shane Battier of Duke probably will be the first college senior taken, and should be available should the Hawks keep their pick.

"Each player has certain advantages, and experience is one thing that is a strong suit of Shane's," Kruger said. "His competitiveness, his winning mentality, his leadership and his skill all give him a good package."

The Hawks took DerMarr Johnson with the sixth pick in last year's draft, gambling on a player who left Cincinnati after his freshman year. Johnson struggled as a rookie, averaging just 5.1 points a game.

"I'd much prefer all those kids stay in school, because I think they all could benefit from it," Kruger said.

A year earlier, the Hawks used their top pick on Arizona senior Jason Terry, who has emerged as the team's offensive star. But at 6-2, 170 pounds, he is smaller than most shooting guards in the league, which hurts the team defensively.

Kruger says the Hawks "need to get bigger out on the perimeter," and many experts speculate that they are looking for a tall point guard to complement Terry.

The Hawks started last season with the third-youngest roster in the league and stumbled to a franchise-worst 25-57 record. A playoff regular in the 1990s, the Hawks are 53-111 since reaching the second round of the postseason in 1999.

"When you don't win many ball games, there's a lot of needs," Kruger said. "It's not like we have any positions that are full. We need to get stronger, and we need to get tougher and more experienced."

The Hawks enter the June 27 draft in better shape than last year, at least on paper. They traded aging Dikembe Mutombo to the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 22, getting Theo Ratliff, Toni Kukoc, Nazr Mohammed in return.

Ratliff never played for Atlanta after having wrist surgery in February, but Kukoc and Mohammed became starters and averaged double figures in points. Ratliff should be the starting center next season.

"Our starting point is much improved from a year ago," Kruger said.