SECAUCUS, N.J. – For most of the last 25 years, the Los Angeles Clippers have had to travel across the country every spring for the NBA draft lottery.
Maybe Blake Griffin can help save them the trip. The Clippers won the lottery Tuesday night, moving up from the third-best chance to earn the top pick and the right to draft Griffin, the national college player of the year from Oklahoma.
“We’re going to do our diligence and then we’re going to pick the best player in the draft. A lot of people think that’s Blake Griffin,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said. “He’s a terrific athlete, he’s athletic and he’s strong. Any franchise would be happy to have Blake Griffin for a long time.”
And perhaps someday the All-America power forward will be part of a Clippers team doing what the Lakers, their Staples Center co-tenants, were doing Tuesday night: playing in the conference finals.
“I’m not sure we’ve stolen the spotlight (from the Lakers),” Roeser said. “A couple of years ago we were playing in the playoffs and I would rather be in that position, no questions.”
Memphis vaulted to second and Oklahoma City will pick third.
Sacramento, which had the best chance to win the lottery after finishing with a league-worst 17-65 record, fell to fourth, and Washington dropped from second to No. 5.
The Toronto Raptors didn’t move in either direction and will pick ninth. President and general manager Bryan Colangelo was satisfied with the way events at the lottery unfolded.
“The fact that no team behind us jumped up ahead of us I think obviously is a very positive thing,” he said. “Six of the seven top picks in the draft will go to Western Conference teams, another positive. I can’t imagine a situation where the circumstances worked out more favourable other than us jumping into one of the top three spots.”
Colangelo, has had some luck with drafting ninth. He was GM of the Phoenix Suns when they selected Amare Stoudemire ninth in 2002 and Shawn Marion at that spot in 1999.
The Raptors haven’t been in the lottery since they won it in 2006 after finishing fifth-last in the league. They used that selection to draft Italian forward Andrea Bargnani.
The Clippers won the top pick for the third time in their mostly dismal history. They last had the No. 1 selection in 1998 and, perhaps predictably, blew it, taking eventual bust Michael Olowokandi.
They stand a better chance of getting it right this time if they go with Griffin, who led the nation with 30 double-doubles and 14.4 rebounds per game, while also averaging a Big 12-best 22.7 points as a sophomore.
Roeser, who represented the team on the podium, wouldn’t confirm that they will choose Griffin, though they could certainly use a power forward after former star Elton Brand left before last season as a free agent.
“I think five years from now Blake Griffin will be hitting his stride in the NBA and he will be an impact player wherever he is,” said Roeser, whose sports jacket was lined with a Clippers uniform with a No. 1 on the left side and a 23, Griffin’s number, on the other. “He is an athletic player. He can do all sorts of things and has a ton of talent, and I think any team will be happy to have him.”
Former all-star Chris Webber, who represented Sacramento on the podium, seemed to agree Griffin is the way to go.
“I love Griffin’s game. I think there is a lot of upside to his potential,” Webber said. “He is a hardworking player. I love the guy.”
The top three teams all moved up, making the 25th lottery as unpredictable as most of its predecessors. Not since 2004, when Orlando took Dwight Howard, had the team with the best chance to win ended up with the No. 1 pick.
And though Sacramento desperately needed the help, Webber said he loved the system.
“The worst team shouldn’t always get the best player,” he said. “You can do a lot of losing for that. I really like the system, it is fair.”
The draft is June 25.
Minnesota has the sixth pick followed by Golden State, New York, Toronto, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Charlotte, Indiana and Phoenix.
The Clippers also picked first in 1988, drafting Danny Manning. This was their 20th appearance in the draft lottery, which is supposed to help bad teams get better quickly. They can only hope that will finally be the case this time.
“Our goal is to be playing next year at this time,” Roeser said.
The lottery had a much bigger buzz in the past two years because there were two players who seemed worthy of going No. 1. Portland went for Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007, and the Chicago Bulls moved up to get Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose last season, with Michael Beasley going second to Miami.
That wasn’t the case this year, since Griffin seems like the only possible choice at No. 1. Spanish guard Ricky Rubio and Connecticut centre Hasheem Thabeet are also considered top-three choices, but come with question marks: Rubio is still a teenager and Thabeet isn’t polished offensively.
The lottery determines the top three picks, with the rest of the first round going by inverse order of a team’s record. It began in 1985, when the New York Knicks selected Patrick Ewing.