WE ALREADY KNOW the bad news.

Because the 76ers did the right thing and maximized their talents, abilities and will during the regular season, they played themselves into minimal odds of winning the NBA draft lottery.

And nothing will change the fact that for them to have any chance of drafting Ohio State freshman Greg Oden or Texas freshman Kevin Durant, they must get either the first or second overall pick in the 2007 draft. With only a 0.7 percent chance of winning the lottery, neither of those things likely will happen during the pingpong derby on May 22.

But other than that - yes, I know it is a big "other'' - things are falling the Sixers' way for the NBA's annual entry fest, scheduled for June 28.

On Monday, North Carolina freshman forward Brandan Wright announced that he would follow the lead of Durant and Oden and enter the draft. Other good players will follow suit.

That means the Sixers, who will draft 12th overall unless they, the New Orleans Hornets or Los Angeles Clippers move up in the lottery, are getting what they need - namely, as many underclassmen as possible declaring for the draft.

This draft was touted as potentially one of the deepest in years, speculation that was fueled primarily by the notion that a lot of underclassmen would turn pro, particularly those forced to attend college for a year because of the NBA's ban on draftees right out of high school.

For a team like the Sixers, which has a late lottery pick and two other first-round choices, every top prospect who declares increases their odds of getting a solid player.

Unless they move up to first, second or third, the Sixers can take Oden, Durant and other such prospects as Wright, Florida's Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer and Chinese prospect Yi Jianlian off their draft board.

But good players will be available if the Sixers draft 12th, 13th or 14th.

It's not fair to expect the Sixers to find a Kobe Bryant (13th in 1996) or Steve Nash (15th in '96) that low in the lottery, but this pick can't be screwed up.

They must, and should, be able to get a high-level performer and eventual starter at this spot. That means taking the best player available - not drafting for need or because of intriguing upside.

Here are some names who should be on the board for the Sixers:

Name you know

Acie Law IV, 6-3, point guard, Texas A & M: The good thing is that he'll likely be the best player available and fills a need.

Andre Miller has been terrific, but he is 31 and has only 2 years left on his contract. He might not want to be part of an extended rebuilding situation.

Law, who improved in every category each of his 4 years in college, will give the Sixers the option of moving Miller or be a valuable backup while learning the ropes as heir apparent.

Name you might not know

Tiago Splitter, 7-foot, center, Brazil: Denver's Nene and Cleveland's Anderson Varejao have put Brazilian big men on the radar. Splitter, 22, who plays for Tau Vitoria in Spain, is said to be able to play both center and power forward. His defense is solid and his offense is improving.

Like most international players, he is said to know how to play the game.

Take a chance

Spencer Hawes, 7-foot, center, Washington: Considering he'll be only 19 on draft day, Hawes might not make it out of the top 10. But if he is there for the Sixers, they should snap him up.

Legitimate big men remain the most valuable commodities in the NBA. Hawes has strong low-post moves, good footwork and touch. His low rebound totals for his size are a red flag, but a potential 10- to 15-year starting center has too much potential to ignore.

Don't do it

Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, center, Connecticut: He's young. He's big. He's raw. He's athletic. All of that makes him intriguing.

I have two words when looking at this mega-project from UConn - "Samuel Dalembert." The difference is Dalembert was the 26th pick in 2001 and worth taking a chance on at that spot.

Thabeet might be worth a shot with the 30th pick the Sixers got from Dallas via Denver in the Allen Iverson trade, but no way with the 12th pick.

After five seasons, Dalembert is improving, but needs more work. The Sixers can't afford two major projects at one time.

Thabeet is the opposite of Hawes - too much risk.

Good players will be there. Sixers management must find the right one. *

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