Those longtime losers from Los Angeles were big winners Tuesday night.
The Clippers came across the country for what’s practically an annual spring vacation and are going home with a nice souvenir: the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft.
The Clippers won the draft lottery, moving up from the third-best chance to earn the top pick for the third time, earning the right to draft All-America forward Blake Griffin of Oklahoma, the national college player of the year.
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 Clippers last had the No. 1 pick 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.
Clippers president Andy 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 their 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.”
Watch Blake Griffin’s Highlights
Though the Kings desperately need help, former All-Star Chris Webber, who represented them on the podium, 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.
“I think our system is very fair. It’s unfortunate I didn’t get what I wanted to get and the Sacramento fans didn’t get what they wanted and the Oklahoma City fans didn’t get what they wanted, but I think the system is fair.”
Webber, who was also a power forward, 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. (Kevin Garnett) is one of my favorites and I think he is from that cloth. He had a lot of pressure on him, but I like the kid and hopefully, he has a fun career.”
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.
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 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 center 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.