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NBA castoff pool: Dive at own risk

They're players who never had much of a chance to blossom or who are classic underachievers, aging superstars, tempestuous problem children or grossly overpaid.

And, for better or worse, they'll forever be the first players associated with the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies as those teams begin stocking their rosters in today's NBA expansion draft.

"There's some good players and some really bad players," said Toronto general manager Isiah Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons' star guard.

The 27 other teams were able to protect eight players, not including unrestricted free agents, leaving a limited pool for Thomas and his Vancouver counterpart, Stu Jackson, to mull over.

Team officials, threatened with fines, haven't released their lists, but some of the bigger names reportedly available:

Chicago point guard B.J. Armstrong, Houston guard Vernon Maxwell, Dallas forward Roy Tarpley, Boston forward Dominique Wilkins, Charlotte center Robert Parish, Denver forward Reggie Williams, Miami forward John Salley, Seattle center Bill Cartwright, Indiana guard Byron Scott, Washington guard Rex Chapman, Chicago guard Ron Harper, New Jersey center Benoit Benjamin, Detroit center Oliver Miller, Denver guard Dale Ellis and Cleveland forward Danny Ferry.

The Magic is believed to have left seldom-used power forward Anthony Avent, oft-injured backup center Geert Hammink, rookie power forward Rodney Dent _ who spent the year recovering from injuries _ and rookie point guard Darrell Armstrong unprotected.

No team can lose more than one player, but if a team has just one player available and he makes more than the league average of $2.5-million, the expansionists can pass. Toronto has the first choice and probably will take 14 players, while Vancouver probably will end up with 13.

"I hope I'm able to get out of the expansion draft players that will be able to help solidify, establish the type of work ethic we plan to live and die by or find guys with value to other teams we can turn into draft picks who might possibly turn into gold for us," Thomas said.

B.J. Armstrong, probably the first pick, has considerable trade value. Unlike many of the other big names, he's still young (27), is just one year removed from All-Star status, has three championship rings and is the consummate professional.

Charlotte, for one, reportedly is interested in Armstrong and has dangled its first-round pick in Wednesday's college draft, No.

22 overall, and super-sub guard Dell Curry.

"The position we're in today, we'll listen to everything," Thomas said coyly. "If it makes sense to our team and to our future, we'll do it."

He and Jackson know the road to success is the college draft and not the expansion draft.

The Magic reached the NBA Finals in its sixth season thanks to defying the odds in back-to-back drafts and landing the No.

1 pick. Those choices turned into Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway.

Charlotte, second to Orlando in terms of quickest success of the past four expansion teams, had the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in successive years and took Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat never has picked above fourth, while the Minnesota Timberwolves have picked as high as third once.

Jackson, the former New York Knicks coach, said he too will make selections with an eye toward dealing them and stockpiling draft picks, especially since neither Canadian team can get the No.

1 pick until 1999 at the earliest.

Miami loaded up on picks in 1988, not by trading expansion selections but by not taking certain players.

In exchange for not picking Bill Wennington, Uwe Blab or Steve Alford from Dallas, the Heat got the Mavericks' first-round pick. It turned that pick into Kevin Edwards.

It also struck similar deals with the Lakers, passing on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in exchange for a 1992 second-round pick (Matt Geiger), and Boston, not taking Dennis Johnson and receiving a second-round pick in 1988 (Sylvester Gray).

But Jackson said such trades might be hard.

"I think we have to keep in mind that the majority of the players exposed were exposed for reasons," he said.

Maxwell is one of the league's best long-range shooters who helped Houston to the championship in 1994 and earned a bargain-basement $1.7-million last season. But he's been a problem off the court.

This year, the former Florida star ran into the stands to attack an abusive fan. After the team's first playoff game against Utah, Maxwell, upset with his diminishing role in the wake of Clyde Drexler's arrival, was granted an indefinite leave of absence.

Any takers? Didn't think so.

Tarpley, back from NBA banishment after repeated drug and alcohol problems, still has four years left on a whopping five-year, $23-million deal. The contract and his past might scare off other teams that need a power forward to make a championship run.

"If you start accumulating too many of the higher-salary guys coupled with inability to move them at a later date, it limits you," Jackson said. "If he's (Tarpley) on the list, it'd be tough for us to justify. But we're looking at all possibilities."

If history means anything, the key to putting together a competitive team is drafting some veterans to complement players who may prosper if given an expanded role. That's what Orlando and Charlotte did.

The Magic looked to veterans Reggie Theus, Sidney Green and Terry Catledge and then found Scott Skiles, who after three unspectacular seasons in Milwaukee and Indiana, emerged once he was made a starter. The Hornets did even better, rescuing Curry and Muggsy Bogues and watching them get better and better.

"We wanted to have a good club out there, but we knew it was stopgap; we had to put good drafts together," Magic general manager Pat Williams said of his team's expansion-draft strategy. "No matter what you do (in the expansion draft), you're going to lose 60 games. It's going to be a struggle."

Expansion draft

Teams, threatened with fines, have not officially released the names of their unprotected players. These are some of the reported names:

B.J. Armstrong, Chicago, PG: Arguably the best player available. He's still young (27), has three championship rings and could fetch draft picks and/or veterans in a trade.

Roy Tarpley, Dallas, F: Back last season from NBA exile after troubles with drugs and alcohol, but signed a five-year, $23-million deal. His track record and contract make him an expensive gamble.

Vernon Maxwell, Houston, G: Mad Max is one of the best three-point shooters and helped the Rockets win the '94 title. But he's a problem child off the court (or in the stands) and, when he saw less playing time, couldn't handle it and left the team.

Danny Ferry, Cleveland, F: The second pick of the '89 draft who refused to sign with the Clippers, went to Europe, forced a deal to the Cavs, then proved he was an overpriced part-time player at $3-million a year.

Dominique Wilkins, Boston, F: The Human Highlight Film at 35 is more like a short feature. He lacks his old explosiveness to the basket and is more of a perimeter player. Despite a big contract of about $2.8-million last year, he could be a draw for an expansion team.

Robert Parish, Charlotte, C: The Chief has three championship rings, exudes class, is uncommonly fit and played in 81 games. But he averaged less than 17 minutes and will turn 42 before the season.

Greg Anthony, New York, PG: The 12th pick of the '91 draft, he has struggled with consistency and a lack of playing time in a logjam of PGs. A chance to play may be all he needs to blossom.

John Salley, Miami, F: He was an integral part of Detroit's two championship teams, but hasn't lived up to the expectations since his trade to the Heat. He'd love to be reunited with Isiah Thomas.

Rex Chapman, Washington, G: He can be a great shooter. But he shoots way too much and his percentage usually is poor. He's also prone to injury.

Byron Scott, Indiana, G: Scott, another classy veteran leader, won three championships with the Lakers and his perimeter touch off the bench helped propel the Pacers to the Eastern final the past two seasons. But he struggled in the playoffs.

Magic players available

Darrell Armstrong, PG: Armstrong, who averaged 24.6 points in Spain before signing as a rookie free agent in April, is lightning quick, has surprising leaping ability and is a good perimeter shooter. The Magic would like to keep him, but he's the No.

4 PG on the depth chart.

Anthony Avent, F: Avent, who came from Milwaukee in a midseason trade in 1993-94 and cost the Magic a first-round pick (No. 18, Eric Mobley), played in just seven playoff games and averaged 5.7 minutes, 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds. He didn't play in the Finals.

Rodney Dent, F: He looked like a steal in the second round last year, but he spent the year recovering from knee surgery and other injuries. He has the size and skills to play power forward and a little center.

Geert Hammink, C: A former first-round draft pick in 1993, he played in one game this past season. A former collegiate teammate of Shaquille O'Neal, he has learned the not-so-glamorous way _ in practice _ and has improved.

Expansion steals

Name Pos. Old tm New tm

Dell Curry G Clev. Char.

Sixth man of year in 1994.

M. Bogues PG Wash. Char.

Top 5 assists 5 of past 6 seasons.

Scott Skiles PG Ind. Orl.

Top 10 in assists twice in first four seasons with Magic.

Forgettables

Arvid Kramer F Dal. Mia.

First choice along with a future No. 1 from Dallas for not taking Bill Wennington, Uwe Blab or Steve Alford. Never played for Heat.

Hansi Gnad C Phil. Mia.

Never played for Heat.

Shel. Jones F Phil. Minn.

Signed 2-year deal, waived before season.

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