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Enigma of draft: Stanley Roberts

Stanley Roberts is 7 feet and weighs around 280 pounds, but he doesn't always carry it well. He is a developing offensive talent and can block shots. If he loses weight and tightens up his body, he could become an exceptional pro player. If he gains weight, he could be a bench-sitter. He is the enigma of the NBA draft, which will take place June 26 in New York City.

Roberts' size and immense skills should make him one of the first 11 players selected. But scouts, always looking for warts, are concerned that Roberts dropped out of LSU after his sophomore season, ballooned to more than 300 pounds last August, and produced only average numbers playing against inferior competition in Spain.

"I think it was a bad rap," said former NBA great Rick Barry, who worked out with Roberts recently. "He wasn't playing basketball anymore because he was trying to get his grades up. He didn't know then he was going to Spain. Word got out, and nobody bothered to check what was going on.

"If this kid doesn't go in the top three, somebody's missing the boat. I've played with and against enough great centers to know. Anybody that gets him after the fifth pick is stealing. He's more skilled right now than a great many of the centers in the NBA."

Barry then dropped a bombshell, comparing Roberts to one-time LSU teammate Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal would have been the first player selected in this year's draft, but he elected to remain in school.

"I think Stanley Roberts is far advanced offensively over Shaquille O'Neal," said Barry, who does color commentary for TNT. "He can shoot the ball from three-point college range. He has moves that a lot of players have never thought about. He is better right now than Shaquille."

Roberts averaged 14.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his only season at LSU (1989-90). He did not play as a freshman in order to become academically eligible, and left school after his sophomore year.

Playing for Real Madrid in the Spanish league this season, he averaged 11.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.

Charlotte has the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Hornets are considering Georgetown center Dikembe Mutombo, Syracuse forward Billy Owens and UNLV forward Larry Johnson.

"If I was Charlotte and I needed a big man, I'd take Stanley Roberts," Barry said. "Mutombo doesn't have anywhere near the offensive potential."

The Orlando Magic has the 10th overall selection. Team officials visited with Roberts on Thursday in Baton Rouge, La.

According to Roberts' attorney, Oscar Schoenfeld, other teams requesting interviews include Denver, Miami, Dallas, Minnesota, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers.

"If Roberts goes to No. 10, (Magic coach) Matty Guokas should go to church and thank God," Barry said. "That's a steal."

Pistons Payback: Imagine this dream sequence: The Atlanta Hawks offer Detroit Pistons forward John Salley, say, $2.5-million a year for the next five years _ Jon Koncak money _ when Salley becomes a restricted free agent July 1. The Hawks don't really need Salley. But they no doubt figure that, what the heck, the Pistons probably need the aggravation.

Sound familiar? Well, it should.

It was Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey who signed the remarkably ordinary Koncak to a monstrous offer sheet two years ago _ at $2.5-million a season. And it was the Hawks who reluctantly matched the offer.

Now it appears the Reebok is on the other foot.

Salley is a player the Pistons cannot afford to lose unless they first sign him and then offer him in a trade. Salley and guard Joe Dumars are the only players in the Pistons' regular rotation under 30.

But it was the Pistons who fired the first salvo _ offering superstar money to Koncak, a player from a Central Division rival that they didn't need. It should only be fitting and proper that the Hawks return the favor.

Miami heist: The New York Heat? The Miami Knicks? Don't laugh. It very nearly happened.

Miami Heat managing partner Lewis Schaffel confirmed last week that he turned down a potential blockbuster trade with New York that would have delivered All-Star center Patrick Ewing for center Rony Seikaly, guard Sherman Douglas and this year's No. 1 draft pick.

Schaffel, whose team has never won more than 24 games in a season, refused to bite because he didn't want Miami to develop into the Knicks, who are talented enough to reach the playoffs with Ewing but not equipped to contend for a title.