Danny Manning, Michael Olowokandi . . . and now Blake Griffin.
The Clippers have twice had the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, and will get it again for a third time, having won the league’s draft lottery Tuesday night at Secaucus, N.J.
“Clearly, we’re taking Blake Griffin,” Clippers General Manager and Coach Mike Dunleavy said in a telephone interview from Barcelona, Spain.
“This guy is the No. 1 pick. We’re extremely excited. He’s the guy.”
There wasn’t much of a question the Clippers would do anything other than take the dynamic, explosive forward from Oklahoma. Dunleavy, though, wasn’t about to be coy in the wee morning hours in Spain and erased any shred of doubt about the team’s intention in the draft June 25 in New York.
They moved up from third to first -- armed with a 17.7% chance of winning -- and their upward progression had international reverberations for a beleaguered, hard-luck franchise.
Memphis will pick second, moving up from sixth, followed by Oklahoma City and Sacramento, which had the league’s worst record. The Kings, represented by Chris Webber, had a 25% chance of winning. Washington dropped from second to fifth, and Minnesota and Golden State will pick sixth and seventh, respectively.
At the NBA Entertainment Studio, the league and ESPN put on quite a production, which had the look of a sports event morphed with a quiz show.
Webber joked the Kings’ owners, the Maloofs, wouldn’t let him come back to Sacramento if he didn’t get the top pick. And Mr. October, baseball legend Reggie Jackson, tried to become Mr. May, joining the Knicks’ effort as a guest on a late whim, more or less.
Clippers team representative, President Andy Roeser, looked jubilant on the ESPN broadcast, having gutted it out through a long commercial break before the drama of the final three. He doesn’t consider himself to be superstitious, but his wife had a Clippers No. 1 sewn into his jacket.
“We had a tough season. There’s no hiding from it. Not only did we have a tough season, we didn’t perform well on top of it. We needed some good news and this is a great day for us,” Roeser said later on a conference call.
Said Griffin, in an ESPN interview: “I was obviously excited. . . . Just to play in the NBA has been a dream for so long. It’s a great feeling I’m going to try to make the best out of whatever situation I’m put in. Hopefully I can make a big impact. I’m going to try to come in and learn as much as I can on the fly, and hopefully help the team out in any way I can.”
Dunleavy, who was in Spain to scout guard Ricky Rubio, got a flood of e-mails and congratulatory text messages, starting with his sons. Rubio, in fact, had gotten injured 12 minutes into the first game Dunleavy watched. He did come back with a strong performance in the second game of the Spanish playoffs, scoring 16 points.
Now it appears Rubio will land in Memphis. Griffin, who led the nation in double-doubles last season, could have had an up-close-and-personal look at the Clippers in April. On the same night he received the Wooden Award in Los Angeles as the college basketball player of the year, the Clippers were playing Sacramento a few miles away, fighting for better lottery odds.
The Kings lost that night. But it hardly mattered, as it turned out.
“It’s very positive for us because most people feel the draft is not a good draft,” Dunleavy said. “There’s a big difference between us going No. 1 and being No. 6. That’s clearly a big positive. Last year, we knew we’d get a good player at six or seven.”
Still, the Clippers are not through with decisions. Griffin’s addition will raise questions about what to do with the big men currently on the roster: Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.
Dunleavy spoke about Griffin as a major asset.
Said Roeser: “It’s not a good problem. It’s a great problem.”
Words not often heard by Clippers fans before Tuesday night.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
The Clippers won the top pick for the June 25 NBA draft. Their previous No. 1 selections and how they fared with the club:
Michael Olowokandi, C, Pacific
* Averaged 10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in five seasons.
Danny Manning, F, Kansas
* Averaged 19.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in seven seasons.
The Clippers’ tally of top 10 picks or better:
* No. 1 picks... 3
* Top 3 picks... 12
* Top 5 picks... 15
* Top 10 picks... 27
Mark Heisler’s picks
Now that there’s a batting order, here’s how the lottery shapes up:
1. Clippers: Blake Griffin, 6-10, 245, Oklahoma. The player anyone would have taken here. Clippers were going to try to trade their pick if they didn’t get No. 1. Now they’re cool.
2. Memphis: Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, 263, Connecticut. Grizzlies’ lucky draw moves them up high enough to get what they need, a big man.
3. Oklahoma City: James Harden, 6-4, 215, Arizona State. Thunder likes the idea of pairing this playmaking shooting guard with converted point guard Russell Westbrook.
4. Sacramento: Ricky Rubio, 6-4, 180, Joventut Barcelona. Dropping this low may not turn out to be a disaster if the player Kings wanted is still there for them.
5. Washington: Tyreke Evans, 6-6, 220, Memphis. Drop out of top three means Wizards have to make a reach to get a point guard to move Gilbert Arenas to shooting guard.
6. Minnesota: DeMar DeRozan, 6-6, 200, USC. Timberwolves need a big man but with none around, they go for pure athletic upside.
7. Golden State: Jordan Hill, 6-9, 235, Arizona. Good news: This major athlete falls to them.
8. New York: Stephen Curry, 6-2, 185, Davidson. Waif that Curry is, Coach Mike D’Antoni likes point guards who can shoot.
9. Toronto: Earl Clark, 6-9, 200, Louisville. Lamar Odom-type who’ll work in Raptors’ open-court system.
10. Milwaukee: Jrue Holiday, 6-4, 200, UCLA. Now wowing teams at point guard in workouts.
11. New Jersey: James Johnson, 6-9, 245, Wake Forest. Athletic power forward to challenge Yi Jianlian.
12. Indiana: Jonny Flynn, 6-0, 175, Syracuse. Pacers are OK with little point guards but don’t like T.J. Ford.
13. Charlotte: Gerald Henderson, 6-4, 215, Duke. Aside from the local connection, Larry Brown will like his defense.
14. Phoenix: Eric Maynor, 6-3, 175, TCU. Steve Nash’s successor, whether it’s years off or sooner.
-- Mark Heisler