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The Wild, Wild West

As you are no doubt aware, the Clippers were in the NBA Draft Lottery tonight for the 11th time in the last 13 years.  It was a familiar scene, with about the only difference being the presence of MDsr in the chair where we're used to seeing the original EB and his Cosbillian sweaters.

All fans (with the obvious exceptions of San Antonio and Orlando) no doubt feel like they've had bad luck in the lottery and Clipper fans are no different.  However, it's not so much the Clippers' lottery luck as the Clippers' lottery timing that has been devastatingly bad over the last 13 years.

In 11 lotteries, the Clippers have improved their position 3 times, fallen further in the draft 4 times, and remained the same 4 times.  Pretty unremarkable.  But the drafts in which the Clippers have moved up were exceedingly weak.  Meanwhile, the times that can't miss franchise players have been available, the Clippers were not in a position to draft them.  For instance, in 2002 the Clippers finished with the 5th worst record in the league.  One team below them (the Pistons, using the Grizzlies pick) moved ahead of them.  The Clippers ended up with the 6th pick - meanwhile, the first, third, fourth and fifth picks from that draft all made the All Star Game and All-NBA this year.  Chris Kaman at 6 looks like a pretty good pick (or he did until this year at least); but Dwyane Wade at 5 looks a little better.

The one time the Clippers moved up into the first overall pick, they ended up with Michael Olowokandi.  Now it's all well and good to criticize Elgin Baylor et al for that historically bad pick with the benefit of hindsight, but probably 28 out of 29 GM's would have picked him there.  Far and away the best player in that draft (Dirk Nowitzki) was taken with the 9th pick, and Don Nelson was able to trade DOWN to draft him there.  Vince Carter at 5 and Paul Pierce at 10 are clearly better picks than the Kandi Man, but they were both picked after Kandi and Raef LaFrentz.  It simply wasn't a clear cut case of franchise players available.

The Clippers odds of moving up into a top 3 position in this draft were very long - one half of 1 percent for the number one pick, slightly better for the number 2, all the way up to ¾ of one percent for the third pick.  In other words, there was a greater than 98% chance that the Clippers stayed right where they were at 14.  And the fact that this is one of the great drafts in recent memory, with at least two can't miss franchise players available, made it a lead pipe cinch.  

So I wasn't hoping for much.  It's a deep draft, and we'll just have to hope for the best at 14.

But I wasn't really expecting this either.

In an NBA where the top 6 or 7 teams already play in the West, where the worst 6 or 7 teams play in the East, two non-playoff teams in the Western Conference just landed Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.  So not only do the Clippers have to pass someone to get back into the playoffs next season, they have to fend off two suddenly loaded teams from the Pacific Northwest.  I realize that the season hasn't started, but it's not a stretch to say that several Western Conference teams that will miss the playoffs next season would be hosting first round games in the East.  The only good news is that the Hawks held onto their own pick in the top three, keeping it out of the hands of the talented Suns for now.  But truthfully, the Suns aren't going anywhere, and that pick is going to end up with them eventually, so it's small consolation.

Seriously, look at these NON PLAYOFF Western Conference squads:  Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves, Elton Brand and the Clippers, Pau Gasol and the Grizzlies, Ray Allen and (probably) Kevin Durant and the Sonics, Zach Randolph and (probably) Greg Oden and the Blazers - these guys are loaded for bear.  

Is it time to re-align yet?