The 1996 NBA Draft is considered one of the best in league history, on par with 1984 (the Michael Jordan draft) and 2003 (LeBron James draft) for producing both quality and quantity of NBA talent.
The Clippers had the seventh pick that year, and even though they didn’t end up with an All-Star, they still landed the best player in franchise history to wear no. 55.
Lorenzen Wright was the best high school player in the state of Tennessee as a prep prospect, earning him a scholarship to the Memphis. He was called “The Howl” because of how he yelled after dunks and blocked shots. As a freshman, Wright averaged 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds. He followed that up with 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in his sophomore season, his final collegiate campaign.
At the time, it was near unprecedented for underclassmen to declare for the draft. A couple of high school players went straight to the pros, like Kevin Garnett the year before and Kobe Bryant in the 1996 class, but players who went to college stayed at least three years. Wright would be the exception.
He was picked in the lottery at no. 7 behind five players who became All-Stars and two Hall of Famers. The five players picked after Wright were nothing to write home about, but the Clippers certainly erred by skipping out on four players drafted between picks 13 and 17: Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, and Jermaine O’Neal.
Wright immediately carved out a role on an improving Clippers team, buoyed by injuries to frontcourt teammates Stanley Roberts and Kevin Duckworth. Wright averaged 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game, which got him invited to the Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend (though only after Samaki Walker, the no. 9 pick in the draft, pulled out with an injury). Wright finished the season 12th among rookies in scoring and 5th in rebounding and the team made the playoffs as the 8th seed with a 36-46 record.
The 6-foot-11 center improved in his second season, averaging 9.0 points and 8.8 rebounds as his minutes total increased to 30.0 per game. His best stretch came in December 1997 when he had double-doubles in 8 out of 9 games and finished second to Michael Jordan for player of the week honors. A left knee injury in January dulled Wright’s momentum, and the Clippers were awful, cratering to 17-65.
The Clippers and Wright were at a bit of a standstill the following offseason, as he reportedly asked for a 6-year, $60 million extension on his rookie contract that paid him just south of $2 million. The Clippers were not interested in that amount, instead choosing to prioritize Michael Olowokandi and other bigs over Wright that season and setting the stage for his imminent departure. They traded Wright to the Hawks that summer for two 2000 first-round draft picks, ending his three years in Los Angeles.
Wright really blossomed when he returned to his home state and played for the Grizzlies from 2001 and 2006. The team made the playoffs each of his final three years in Memphis.
Wright’s NBA career ended in 2009 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. A year later, he was tragically murdered at the age of 34. The investigation into his death hung into the balance for nearly a decade; eventually, the murder weapon was found in 2017. Wright’s ex-wife Sherra Wright-Robinson pled guilty to the crime in 2019 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The Clippers had a habit of failing at the draft in the 1990s and 2000s and seeing their young talents thrive elsewhere. So many lottery picks had short-lived tenures in Los Angeles, Wright among them. Despite an inauspicious start, Wright at least showed enough in his early years to carve out an NBA career that spanned over a decade.
This marks the end of our series of the best Clippers to wear each number. Thanks for following along, and you can read the rest of the list here.
If you have any ideas for series you’d like to see while the NBA remains shut down, let us know in the comments.