MAY 27, Secaucus, N.J. -- For some NBA Drafts, the No. 1 choice is clear.

In 2003, it was LeBron James. In 2002, it was Yao Ming. In 1997, it was Tim Duncan. We had Shaq in 1992 and Patrick Ewing in 1985. The list of sure No. 1 picks goes on.

But until the pingpong balls fell Orlando's way on Wednesday night for the NBA Draft Lottery, some questioned whether UConn power forward Emeka Okafor or high-schooler Dwight Howard would be the top choice.

It's conceivable the Magic could replace "2004" with Okafor.
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Now that the Magic have won the lottery for the third time in franchise history, some are saying the choice is clear: Okafor.

"I think he's a clear No. 1," said Jay Bilas, ESPN's college basketball analyst, after the Draft Lottery concluded. "The reason is, you know what you're getting. If you clear his back, Emeka Okefor is going to be a 10- or 12-year pro that is going to bust his tail for you and help you win.

"You have question marks about almost everyone else in the Draft. Okafor is a shot-blocker, he can guard a center, he's a good enough athlete, he's got great timing and he can rebound."

Bilas also said as much on ESPN before the pingpong balls fell Orlando's way. But if you look at the numbers, a player like Okafor -- whose strengths are rebounding and defense -- would make an impact for the Magic right away.

The Magic have been one of the worst rebounding teams in the league the past three seasons, finishing in the bottom 10 teams in the league in 2001-02 and 2003-04, and were dead last in rebounding in 2002-03. They've also become steadily worse defending in the paint as well, finishing 20th in blocked shots in 2001-02, 23rd in 2002-03 and last, 29th, in 2003-04.

Magic senior vice president Pat Williams, who has represented the Magic the three times they've won the top pick, said that the franchise would weigh their options.

"We’ve got a lot of homework to do on Emeka Okafor and Howard," Williams told a gaggle of reporters after the lottery. "They appear to be the two that most people are talking about. Those are two nice picks.

"Okafor had a fabulous career. He is a fine student and comes from a fine family. Howard is a comer with a big upside. We are into the evaluation of 18-year-olds, which is a tough, risky business, but a lot of them make it. Bottom line, we have to figure out who has the best chance to be a great player for us."

The Magic -- who were expected to contend in the East last season but finished with a league-worst 21-61 record -- have two reasons they need someone who can contribute right away.

One, with the NBA realigning, the Magic will be in the league's weakest division, the Southeast, which features two other lottery teams (Washington, which got the No. 5 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft and Atlanta, which got the No. 6 pick), an expansion club (the Charlotte Bobcats, who will pick fourth) and one playoff team, the Miami Heat.

The other reason? A superstar who's sick of losing: Tracy McGrady. The five-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ can opt out of his contract after the 2004-05 season. The club, according to the Orlando Sentinel, would like to get the issue resolved before training camp begins in October.

As for the high schooler Howard, the Magic -- and McGrady -- may not have the patience to wait for him to develop.

"With Dwight Howard, you're going to have to wait on him," Bilas said. "He's not ready right now. It's going to take him a period of time and there are still questions as to whether he's tough enough or whether he has the drive to be a great player.

"He has all the tools, but that doesn't guarantee anything. There have been a lot of guys with the tools who haven't done anything."

In 1992, Williams and the Magic knew what they would do.
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Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, who saw his team jump the Wizards and the Bulls to get the No. 2 pick thinks the team ahead of his has a tough choice to make.

"I don’t think there is (a consensus No. 1). I think it’s dependent on who has it. Now we know who has it," said Dunleavy, who, while coach and GM of the Bucks, won the No. 1 pick in 1994. "It can go on needs. There may be some guys back further in the draft that really fill a need, or some teams looking to trade up. At this point, I couldn’t tell you if we’d be willing to trade. All I can say is, with the No. 2 pick, we should come away with a good player."

The Magic also have two reasons as to why they would shy away from Okafor. One, he's not as offensively fluid as some of the other players in this draft. The other is a question about Okafor's balky back, which caused him to miss UConn's first two games of the Big East basketball tournament. But Okafor came back to help UConn capture the Big East tourney title with 11 points and 13 boards. And after scoring 24 points and grabbing 15 points to lead the Huskies to the NCAA title, Okafor was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

The Magic also aren't afraid to pull off a draft day trade. Orlando, which used their first No. 1 overall pick to select Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, traded its second No. 1 overall pick in 1993, Chris Webber to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three No. 1 draft picks. It's doubtful that the Magic could squeeze that type of deal out of any team in this draft.

Still, for the Magic, potential is a most alluring quality.

"Okafor is a seasoned, proven college winner. Howard is a comer," Williams said. "That's what we're talking about. But I've learned you don't want to pass on a youngster; it could come back to haunt you. Twelve teams passed on Kobe; 15 on Jermaine O'Neal, six or seven passed on Garnett. That's not a good feeling, so you have to be careful. Real careful. "

Bilas agrees, to a point.

"I think [Okafor] is more of a sure thing," Bilas said, "even though Howard could be better down the road.

"But that's a big if."