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Draft set to kick off NBA offseason
By John McMullen, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The annual NBA Draft, the unofficial kickoff to the offseason, takes place Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The event has shifted across the Hudson River for the second straight year due to summer renovations taking place at historic Madison Square Garden, and this marks just the third time that the selection process is being held in The Garden State.

The first was the 1996 draft from East Rutherford, which saw the Philadelphia 76ers select Georgetown's Allen Iverson with the number one pick. Future All- Stars Ray Allen (fifth), Kobe Bryant (13th), Peja Stojakovic (14th), Steve Nash (15th), Jermaine O'Neal (17th), and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (20th) also were selected in that draft.

Last year's festivities saw Cleveland in the top spot taking eventual Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving out of Duke.

Kentucky's Anthony Davis is the consensus top pick this time around and the New Orleans Hornets were this year's big winners at the Draft Lottery, having a 13.7 percent of landing the top spot and beating the odds. The team will pounce on Davis, the 6-foot-10 power forward with the 7-foot-5 wingspan, who figures to be a difference maker at the defensive end in the NBA from Day 1.

This will mark the second time in franchise history the Hornets will make the number one selection. In 1991, the then-Charlotte Hornets used the top overall choice to select UNLV's Larry Johnson, who went on to capture 1991-92 Rookie of the Year honors.

A year later, the Hornets had the second overall pick and selected Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning. The only other time the franchise selected in the top three was 1999 when UCLA's Baron Davis was nabbed with the third overall pick.

The Hornets are also one of just two teams with a pair of picks in the lottery, owning the 10th overall selection in this year's draft as well. Portland is the other club which can help itself with two high selections, the sixth and 11th overall picks.

Cleveland (Nos. 4, 24), Golden State (Nos. 7, 30), Houston (Nos. 14, 16, 18) and Boston (Nos. 21, 22) also have multiple first round selections while the world champion Miami Heat will choose at No. 27.

The Cavs and the Rockets figure to be two teams to watch. A year after starting their post-LeBron James rebuilding project with Irving as well as promising forward Tristan Thompson, Cleveland should be able to get another significant piece in this year's draft.

The Cavs have their eyes on Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, a player that could team with Irving to solidify the team's backcourt for years to come. It's unlikely Beal will last to No. 4, however, since Washington, sitting at No. 3, also covets him. Charlotte, on the other hand, isn't as high on Beal and needs assets so trading the two No. 1 picks to move up to the Bobcats' second selection looks like an option.

Houston, meanwhile, seems to be acquiring picks in an effort to make a run at Orlando All-Star center Dwight Howard. The Rockets already held the last pick in the lottery, No. 14 overall, for the third straight season as well as the 16th selection in the 2012 draft before acquiring the 18th pick on Tuesday by dealing Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey has reportedly put point guard Kyle Lowry, shooting guard Kevin Martin and center Samuel Dalembert on the trading block.

Both the Sacramento Kings, who own the No. 5 pick, and the Toronto Raptors, who have the eighth selection, have let Houston know that their top-10 picks are available and the Rockets could snare one by sending Lowry, who doesn't get along with head coach Kevin McHale, as well as one of their first round picks.

For what it's worth Lowry seems to think he is on the move Tweeting: "It's been real," on Sunday evening.

The Rockets, of course, are still looking to fill the hole in the middle after Yao Ming's retirement and the team could be eyeing UConn big man Andre Drummond as a consolation prize if they can't land Howard.

As for the rest of the draft, Davis will be surrounded with some familiar company Thursday night, as his college teammates at Kentucky, Michael Kidd- Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, are possible lottery selections, while Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb have a good shot to be drafted in the first round as well. Meanwhile, the Wildcats' sixth man, Darius Miller, also figures to hear his name called in the second round.

The only other school in draft history to have six players selected in one draft was UNLV in 1977. Since the draft went to a two-round format in 1989, there have been just four schools -- UConn (2006), Florida (2007), Kansas (2008) and Kentucky (2010) with five players picked in the same draft.

North Carolina will not be far behind the Wildcats with four possible first round selections. Small forward Harrison Barnes leads the list followed by center Tyler Zeller, power forward John Henson and point guard Kendall Marshall.

There are no international players expected to be drafted in the lottery this year, a marked contrast from 2011 when four internationals were chosen early on, Enes Kanter, (third, Turkey), Jonas Valanciunas (fifth, Lithuania), Jan Vesely (sixth, Czech Republic) and Bismack Biyombo (7th, Republic of Congo). Evan Fournier of France is considered a potential first-round pick heading into this year's process.

Brooklyn, the LA Clippers, the LA Lakers, Minnesota, New York, San Antonio and Utah are without first round picks but that doesn't mean they will all be quiet.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has called this "an offseason of change" in L.A. and Pau Gasol remains the team's primary trade piece while enigmatic defensive specialist Metta World Peace can be had for the right price.

The NBA annually invites a number of players to sit in the so-called "green room" for the draft, a special area set aside at the draft site for the invited players plus their families and agents.

This season, the following players are expected to be on hand: Davis, Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Beal, Kidd-Gilchrist, Barnes, Damian Lillard (Weber State), Dion Waiters (Syracuse), Jeremy Lamb (UConn), Drummond, Austin Rivers (Duke), Henson, Zeller, Terrence Ross (Washington) and Meyers Leonard (Illinois).

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