Raptors awarded top choice


SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) – The Toronto Raptors beat the odds to win the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery.

Figuring out what to do with it will be the first major decision for new general manager Bryan Colangelo.

“Right now we’ve got a month to go and we’ll see what comes our way and see what we can dig up,” Colangelo said Tuesday, minutes after the Raptors (27-55) jumped four spots in the pingpong ball lottery.

The Raptors chances of landing the top pick for the first time were only 8.8 percent.

“For us to have this kind of luck is a symbol of a reversal of fortune going forward,” said Colangelo, who was hired in February, a day after the former executive of the year left a similar position with the Phoenix Suns. “We have our work cut out. This will help.”

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive No. 1 pick for the June 28 draft to be held in New York.

Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison, Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge and LSU forward Tyrus Thomas – all underclassmen – are considered top candidates. Under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, this is the first year high school players won’t be eligible for the draft.

The Raptors have some nice pieces to build on with All-Star Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham. And they have salary cap room.

“We go into this draft not only holding the No. 1 pick but with the cap flexibility to take on a pretty large contract,” Colangelo said. “So the combination of those two is pretty powerful. Hopefully, we can manipulate it the right way and make some good decisions. I think at this point we’re in a no-lose situation.”

Colangelo has a proven track record. He was voted the NBA’s 2005 executive of the year for retooling the Suns, who won a league-high 62 games. He left Phoenix after not getting a contract extension.

Toronto fired general manager Rob Babcock on Jan. 26.

There were a couple of notable losers in the lottery, the New York Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers, the league’s two worst teams.

Portland (21-61) slipped all the way to fourth despite having a 25 percent chance of winning the top pick.

Trail Blazers President Steve Patterson believes his team will still get a good player.

“You may find a player with as big an impact at No. 4 or even No. 6 as you may at No. 1,” Patterson said. New Orleans guard Chris Paul was the fourth pick in last year’s draft and he won the rookie of the year award. The Knicks (23-59) were losers even before the lottery. They gave their No. 1 pick to Chicago in a preseason deal for center Eddy Curry, and then they posted their worst season since 1985-86, Patrick Ewing’s rookie season.

The Bulls (41-41) struck a bonanza, getting rid of an unhappy player, making the playoffs in the process and getting the No. 2 pick overall.

John Paxson, the Bulls executive vice president, called the trade an emotional decision, but one which hinged on Chicago getting the Knicks’ first-round pick.

“Eddy Curry is a very good basketball player,” Paxson said. “We made the deal and we’re lucky we got in the lottery.”

NBA commissioner David Stern refused to be drawn into the Knicks’ problems, which include rumors that Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown won’t be back for a second season.

“You’d rather that franchises not be in turmoil but in over 22 years as commissioner and with 30 current franchises, …the franchise is what the franchise is,” Stern said before the lottery. “There are going to be ups and downs.”

Charlotte will have the third pick, which coincides with its third-worst record. Atlanta dropped from No. 4 to fifth overall. The other nine teams in the lottery stayed in the same order as their records.

Minnesota is sixth and will be followed by Boston, Houston, Golden State, Seattle, Orlando, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Utah.

AP-ES-05-23-06 2200EDT