For Griffin and Clips, history isn't on their side

Dan Wetzel

The Los Angeles Clippers held a draft party back in June of 1990. It's about the only kind of party the woebegone franchise ever holds, an annual celebration of hope springing eternal.

This time they used the No. 8 pick overall to select Bo Kimble, who led the nation in scoring at local Loyola Marymount.

"It's made in heaven," gushed coach Mike Schuler.

Heaven lasted 96 games at 5.6 points per night and then Kimble was gone.

Three years later, the Clippers gleefully announced the selection of Terry Dehere with the 13th pick.

"I was surprised he was still there," general manager Elgin Baylor said.

After starting just 47 games in four seasons, Dehere wasn't.

In 2002, despite a desperate need for a point guard, the Clips took center Melvin Ely(notes) of Fresno State with the 12th pick.

"When you look at the big players in the draft, he is probably the best with his back to the basket," Baylor said.

Ely must've played facing the basket; he averaged 4.2 points a game and was gone in two seasons.

In 2005, they used a lottery pick on 18-year-old Russian forward Yaroslav Korolev(notes).

"He can see the floor as well as most point guards," Baylor said.

He's seeing it from back in Russia now because he lasted a mere 34 games before the team released him.

So it goes and goes and goes for the Clippers, the franchise that can't draft straight, hasn't caught a break (other than plenty of bones) in decades. Even when the Clippers get it right, invariably they make it wrong.

The Clips are currently prepping for the draft, where for the 25th time in the last 23 years, they'll make a selection in the top 14 slots. During that same time frame they've won just a single playoff series, a near impossibility considering all the talent they had access to through the draft.

The NBA's draft system gives the best choices to the weakest teams in an effort to allow clubs to yo-yo in the standings.

The Clips just yo, though.

This year they've announced they're taking University of Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin, who hopefully will pan out better than their last two No. 1 overall selections – Danny Manning (1988) and Michael Olowokandi(notes) (1998).

Both are best known for injuries that ranged from catastrophic to comical, the players combining for more knee surgeries (at least five) than All-Star games (two, both by Manning).

Manning did earn the distinction of being the first NBA player to recover from the reconstruction of both knees, and since it's always nice to go down in the record books, at least he's got that.

Olowokandi, meanwhile, had almost too many injuries to count. He once missed 16 games in the NBA for "dental pain," which shouldn't be confused with a separate stint of "tooth ache" and one for "food poisoning."

And yet, neither are even the most embarrassing Clipper pick.

That would go to Danny Ferry, the second overall selection of the 1989 draft. Ferry was a 2,000-point scoring big man out of Duke that scouts ridiculously hyped as "a young Larry Bird."

When L.A. picked him, Ferry all but retched in reaction. He told Sports Illustrated at the time that the thought of having the Clippers pay him millions of dollars to play basketball put him in a "very emotional, vulnerable period."

How very Kate Gosselin of him.

Ferry didn't just bail on the organization. He turned his back on the entire NBA. He signed a contract to play in Italy and wouldn't return until his draft rights were traded to Cleveland a year later.

"I reacted to my situation," Ferry said.

It was an ironic moment because Ferry never materialized into a young, old or middle-aged Larry Bird. Nice guy and decent player, but he failed to make a single All-Star game, which you tend to expect out of a second pick.

In a way, though, he did the Clips a favor by sparing them another disappointing selection. Those embarrassing lists of all-time draft busts usually place Ferry in the Cavs column.

Then again, when you're not good enough for Danny Ferry …

Through the years the Clippers have tried everything – which is a luxury you have when you average more than one pick in the top half of the draft per year.

They've taken college All-Americans and raw high school prospects, guys from national-championship teams and mid-major programs. They've grabbed seniors and freshmen, character guys and ones draped in red flags. They've selected players born on three different continents.

No matter who they pick, they almost annually return to the lottery with a new rebuilding plan. None of their lottery picks over the last 20 years has been named an All-Star while playing for them.

From 1999 to 2004, L.A. made nine lottery selections. Those players should've formed the core of the current team. Even hitting on just half the selections would provide a viable starting lineup.

Instead only one, Chris Kaman(notes) (sixth overall in 2003), played this year and he may be traded this summer. No surprise, L.A. won just 19 games.

The Clippers have four problems, two of which are their own doing:

1. They make horrendous selections considering their perch in the lottery.

There was Kimble and Dehere and Chris Wilcox(notes) and Darius Miles(notes) and Joe Wolf and Keyon Dooling(notes) and on and on and on. Each June there is initial excitement. Hindsight brings reality.

Such as 1996 when the Clippers took University of Memphis forward Lorenzen Wright(notes) rather than Kobe Bryant(notes).

"He's a raw talent," Baylor said of Wright.

In fact, he had just moderate talent, lasting less than three seasons with the team before delivering a mostly journeyman career.

Why the Clippers ever selected him is a mystery. They had never worked Wright out and the player had a broken foot at the time. Wright, in fact, was so certain L.A. wouldn't take him, he was in the bathroom when the pick got announced.

He should've taken Ferry's advice and stayed there.

2. They have bad timing.

When they do get the No. 1 overall selection there isn't a foolproof, franchise-changing player available. Did L.A. win the lottery in 1992 (Shaquille O'Neal(notes)) or 1997 (Tim Duncan(notes)) or 2003 (LeBron James(notes))?

Of course not. If the Clips gambled, they'd hit the Powerball the week after one of those $300 million pots had been collected.

NBA executives, for instance, are calling this the weakest draft in recent memory, or at least since 1998, the last time L.A. had the top pick. While there is universal belief that Griffin will be a very good NBA player, no one is comparing him to LeBron.

And that's if Griffin stays healthy, which due to some undefined franchise curse may depend on his skill level.

3. They have terrible luck.

The Clippers tend to see crippling injuries occur only to draft picks that are actually panning out.

Promising point guard Shaun Livingston(notes) (No. 4 overall in 2004) blew out his knee. Twice. He's now in the D-League. Korolev couldn't play dead but pleasantly didn't accumulate a scratch while doing it.

4. They have an aversion to good draft choices.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling has a fine habit of allowing the rare draft-night winner to leave via free agency (or forced trade) because he's the cheapest man in the NBA. Even not-so-great picks tend to thrive once they are out of Clipperland.

So if in a few years Griffin's a good player who's in perfect health, he'll likely head off to greener pastures to make All-Star appearances and win championships.

The Clippers will be back home, still throwing draft-night parties. Until then, let the good times roll for the latest match made in heaven.