Commentary

For Clippers, lottery rarely a reward

No, Reggie Williams was not the next Michael Jordan ... and other tales

Updated: June 24, 2009, 4:18 PM ET
By David Schoenfield | Page 2

No team has had more lottery selections in the NBA draft since 1985 than the Los Angeles Clippers. They've had 20, more than the Golden State Warriors (16) or Sacramento Kings (13).

You will not be surprised to learn that only one of those 20 picks has become an All-Star while with the organization (Danny Manning).

That's one fewer All-Star than players who weren't drafted at all and became All-Stars during the lottery era (Ben Wallace and Brad Miller). According to ESPN Insider's study of the past 20 years of the NBA draft, the Clippers have been the worst-drafting franchise -- by a huge margin.

How did this happen? Which player did the Clippers draft instead of Kobe Bryant? Which three first-round picks did Elgin Baylor refer to as the greatest draft haul ever? Find out all this and more as we look back at the sordid history of the Clippers' lottery picks. Warning: Children must be accompanied by a parent.

Note: All quotes are real and taken from the Los Angeles Times.

1985

Clippers' record (season prior to draft): 31-51, tied for fourth-worst.
Pick: Benoit Benjamin, C, Creighton (3rd overall).
Could have had: Karl Malone.

[+] EnlargeBenoit Benjamin
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBenoit Benjamin averaged a career-best 16.4 ppg in 1989, but his Clippers career is viewed as a disappointment.

What they said then
"When you have a center that can play for 10 to 15 years, you don't have to back off against teams like the Lakers and Philadelphia and Boston. I guess we have to be careful in hyping him too much and putting a lot of pressure on him. But he's a very good basketball player. I've said before that he could turn out to be as good as or better than [Patrick] Ewing."
--Clippers GM Carl Scheer

Postscript
There were questions about Benjamin's effort when he was drafted and they persisted during his five-plus seasons with the Clippers. As for the Ewing comparison, Benjamin never played in a playoff game with the Clippers; Ewing played in 135 with the Knicks. On the other hand, Benjamin was never required to testify that he received sexual favors at the Gold Club.

1986

Clippers' record: 32-50, tied for sixth-worst
Pick: Traded to Philadelphia in 1979 for Joe "Jellybean" Bryant (yes, Kobe's father). This ended up being the first pick in the draft (Cleveland selected Brad Daugherty).

Postscript
Believe it or not, Jellybean Bryant was a player with a "selfish" tag (according to a 1980 story in The New York Times). You can't make that stuff up. He lasted three seasons with the Clippers, scoring a career-high 11.8 points per game in 1981-82.

1987

Clippers' record: 12-70, worst.
Pick: Reggie Williams, G/F, Georgetown (4th).
Could have had: Scottie Pippen.

What they said then
"I think [Williams] is going to set this city on fire. I think he's a Michael Jordan-type player."
--Owner Donald Sterling

Postscript
In typical Clippers fashion, the year they deserved to win the lottery (and the rights to David Robinson), they get shafted. As for Reggie Williams ... well, at the time Jordan had never won any NBA titles so Sterling's comparison wasn't necessarily inaccurate.

1988

Clippers' record: 17-65, worst.
Pick: Danny Manning, F, Kansas (1st).
Pick No. 2: Charles Smith, F, Pittsburgh (3rd overall). In a three-way trade, the Clippers landed Smith and Gary Grant, the 15th overall selection.
Could have had: Rik Smits, Mitch Richmond.

What they said then
"I think this is probably the best draft any team has ever come up with in history. We were able to get three All-Americans. It's like getting six players because they all play two positions."
--GM Elgin Baylor

Postscript
Six players but only one playoff appearance (in 1992). Manning blew out his knee as a rookie (although he did recover to later make two All-Star Games); Smith had four solid seasons before he was traded away in a deal that brought in Mark Jackson and Stanley Roberts; and Grant lasted seven seasons with the Clippers, but was only a part-time starter. Best draft any team has ever had? Hey, "Forrest Gump" seemed like a swell picture at the time as well.

[+] EnlargeDanny Manning
Mike Powell /Allsport Danny Manning -- one of only two Clippers All-Stars from the past 20 years (Elton Brand is the other).

1989

Clippers' record: 21-61, tied for third-worst.
Pick: Danny Ferry, F, Duke (2nd)
Could have had: Glen Rice. Or Vlade Divac ... whom the Lakers drafted and would one day trade for Kobe Bryant. Just sayin'.

What they said then
"Take Glen Rice."
--Guard Gary Grant to GM Baylor

"I know there's some mixed emotions with the pick. We just felt we had to get the best available player."
--Baylor

Postscript
The Clippers needed a shooting guard. Gary Grant apparently begged the front office to take his former Michigan teammate. Instead, they went with Danny Ferry, who refused to sign with the Clippers and was eventually traded with Reggie Williams (he of the once-Jordanesque skills) to Cleveland for Ron Harper and two future first-round picks (who would turn into Loy Vaught and Elmore Spencer). Harper would go on to win five NBA championship rings -- with the Bulls and Lakers.

1990

Clippers' record: 30-52, seventh-worst.
Pick: Bo Kimble, G, Loyola Marymount (8th).
Could have had: Toni Kukoc.

What they said then
"If we hadn't selected Bo, there would have been a riot."
--Sterling

Postscript
Kimble had averaged 35.3 points per game for Loyola Marymount and led the Lions to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament after the death of his friend Hank Gathers. Since Kimble played college ball in Los Angeles, he wanted to play for the Clippers. Unfortunately, concerns about his quickness and defense proved accurate and he lasted just 105 games in the NBA, one of the worst top-10 picks in lottery history.

1991

Clippers' record: 31-51, tied for ninth-worst.
Pick: Traded to the Hawks for Doc Rivers, who was 30 years old and past his prime. He played just 59 games with the Clips. Hawks selected Stacey Augmon with the ninth pick.

1992

Clippers' record: 45-37 (made playoffs!).
Pick: No lottery pick!

1993

Clippers' record: 41-41, made playoffs again!
Pick: No lottery pick. These are known as the glory years in Clippers history.

1994

Clippers' record: 27-55, seventh-worst.
Pick: Lamond Murray, F, Cal (7th).
Could have had: Eddie Jones.

What they said then
"When I first started scouting I asked 'What makes a player?' and they said, 'The guy who pops out at you.' Lamond Murray was the guy who popped out at me. He's got all kinds of talent. He could be an All-Star if he works at it."
--Clippers scout Barry Hecker

Postscript
The old "if he works at it" excuse. They didn't draft the wrong guy; he just didn't work hard enough! Murray had a decent NBA career, averaging 11.3 points in 736 career games. But in typical Clippers fashion, three picks later the Lakers selected Eddie Jones, who could do more than launch jump shots and would become a three-time All-Star.

1995

Clippers' record: 17-65, worst.
Pick: Antonio McDyess, F, Alabama (2nd). Traded with Randy Woods to Nuggets for Rodney Rogers, rights to Brent Barry (15th pick).
Could have had: Kevin Garnett.

What they said then
"Yuck, you can have this."
--McDyess, told at the draft he'd been traded, whipping off his Clippers hat.

Postscript
Clippers coach Bill Fitch said the franchise couldn't wait for a young player like McDyess (or, ahem, Kevin Garnett) to develop, so it traded for Rogers, whom one personnel director described as "Charles Barkley Jr. on some nights, Elmer Fudd on others." In typical Clippers fashion, they also gave up too early on Brent Barry, trading him in his third season for Ike Austin.

1996

Clippers' record: 29-53, seventh-worst.
Pick: Lorenzen Wright, F/C, Memphis (7th).
Could have had: Kobe Bryant.

What they said then
"He's 6-11 and can run the floor like a deer. He's got the quickness of a little guy. He just plays hard all the time. He's relentless when he goes out onto the floor. This is one of the things that professional teams like about him because he brings a lot of energy to a program."
--Coach Bill Fitch

Postscript
Wright lasted three seasons with the Clippers but never developed much of a shooting touch and was traded to the Hawks (imagine how those talks must have gone) for two future first-round picks (which turned into Quentin Richardson and Chris Wilcox).

1997

Clippers' record: 36-46, made playoffs!
Pick: No lottery pick!

[+] EnlargeMichael Olowokandi
Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images"Let's draft a tall foreign player. No, not Dirk Nowitzki ... Michael Olowokandi."

1998

Clippers' record: 17-65, third-worst.
Pick: Michael Olowokandi, C, Pacific (1st).
Could have had: Dirk Nowitzki.

What they said then
"Look at the big men out there. In three years, who will still be around and be among the best? Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan will. But I think Olowokandi will be in that elite group in three years. He can have a bigger impact than anyone in the draft."
--Baylor

Postscript
Olowokandi once had a 30-point, 16-rebound game in a 94-90 victory over the Bulls on March 8, 2002. What, you don't remember that game?

1999

Clippers' record: 9-41, second-worst.
Pick: Lamar Odom, F, Rhode Island (4th).
Could have had: Shawn Marion.

What they said then
"With Michael Olowokandi, last year's No. 1 overall pick, steadily improving at center and power forward Maurice Taylor becoming one of the NBA's top power forwards, Odom gives the Clippers one of the best young front lines in the league."
--Lonnie White, L.A. Times writer

Postscript
The Clippers were right about Odom's all-around ability and passing skills, but he was twice suspended for violating the NBA's drug policy while with the Clippers. He would, however, go on to win an NBA title -- with the Lakers. Of course.

2000

Clippers' record: 15-67, worst.
Pick: Darius Miles, F, East Saint Louis (Ill.) High School (3rd).
Pick No. 2: Keyon Dooling, G, Missouri (10th).
Could have had: Hedo Turkoglu, Michael Redd.

What they said then
"He has a great upside. I just can visualize him playing with Lamar for years to come."
--Baylor on Miles

Postscript
He also had a great downside. The Clippers gave up on Miles after two seasons and 27 games started.

2001

Clippers' record: 31-51, eighth-worst.
Pick: Tyson Chandler, C, Dominguez High School, Compton, Calif. (2nd). Traded to Bulls for Elton Brand.
Could have had: Pau Gasol.

Postscript
Actually, this trade worked out pretty well, at least until Brand convinced Baron Davis to sign with the Clippers after the 2008 season, only to see Brand jump ship to Philadelphia, Davis shoot a disastrous 37 percent from the field, the team trade for Zach Randolph, give nine starts to Ricky Davis, finish with the worst offensive rating in the league and implode to a 19-63 record that had fans itching for the days of Lancaster Gordon and Kurt Nimphius.

2002

Clippers' record: 39-43, 12th-worst.
Pick: Chris Wilcox, F, Maryland (8th).
Pick No. 2: Melvin Ely, C, Fresno State (12th).
Could have had: Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer.

What they said then
"They either took that pick for someone else or they're stupid."
--Charles Barkley, after the team drafted Wilcox

Postscript
Wilcox ended up having a couple decent seasons -- with Seattle. Ely started nine games with the Clippers. Contrary to what coach Alvin Gentry said after this draft, the team was not good.

2003

Clippers' record: 27-55, fifth-worst
Pick: Chris Kaman, C, Central Michigan (6th).
Could have had: David West.

What they said then
"Any time you get the second pick in the draft, it's crucial that you get a player that's going to be a fixture, a contributor and hopefully a star. I'm pretty confident he's going to be able to fulfill all those things."
--Larry Brown

"When you get a special talent like this, and it comes at that size, it's almost impossible to pass on that. As special as I think Carmelo Anthony is, I do believe there will be other great 6-8 small forwards who will come around.
--Joe Dumars

Postscript
Oops, that's what was said about Darko Milicic, not Chris Kaman. As for the Clippers, typical bad luck for them: They got the sixth pick in a loaded draft in which Dwyane Wade went fifth.

2004

Clippers' record: 28-54, tied for fourth-worst.
Pick: Shaun Livingston, G, Peoria (Ill.) Central High School (3rd).
Could have had: Devin Harris.

What they said then
"And he's the type of player, as you give him a few years to mature, you could see him develop into an All-Star in this league. The thing about him that's so compelling is the fact that he just makes everybody else around him better."
--Coach Mike Dunleavy

Postscript
Have we mentioned the bad luck the Clippers have had with injuries? The Clippers passed on Harris, a college point guard, and made Livingston the first high school point guard ever drafted with a lottery pick. Livingston battled injuries his first two seasons but was finally showing promise in his third season when he suffered a knee injury so severe that ESPN warned of the graphic nature of the video clip.

2005

Clippers' record: 37-45, 12th-worst.
Pick: Yaroslav Korolev, F, Russia (12th).
Could have had: Danny Granger.

What they said then
"His offensive skills are very wide and varied, with a very big upside."
--Dunleavy

Postscript
But not wide enough and definitely not varied enough. The 18-year-old Russian did score 39 points -- in his Clippers career.

2006

Clippers' record: 47-35, made playoffs!
Pick: No picks!

2007

Clippers' record: 40-42, 14th-worst
Pick: Al Thornton, F, Florida State (14th).
Could have had: Actually, you can't argue too much about this pick.

2008

Clippers' record: 23-59, tied for fifth-worst.
Pick: Eric Gordon, G, Indiana (7th).
Could have had: After averaging 16.1 points per game and shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers, do the Clippers make the right pick two years in a row?

2009

Clippers' record: 19-63, tied for second-worst.
Pick: Blake Griffin, F, Oklahoma (1st).
Could have had: Anybody else.

What they said then
"A lot of people questioned the height of Oklahoma's Blake Griffin during the season. At the draft combine, Griffin's measurements were a mixed bag. He checked in at 6-foot-8 inches in bare feet and measured a legit 6-10 in shoes. That part was fine. But his wingspan came in at just 6-11 and he ended with a standing reach of 8-9. That's just one inch longer than the reach registered by Tyreke Evans and an inch and a half shorter than DeJuan Blair's."
--ESPN.com's Chad Ford

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