By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Jun 25 2009 10:41PM
NEW YORK -- Blake Griffin went No. 1 and then the Draft really started.
Griffin going first to the Los Angeles Clippers was a no-brainer. Second is where the fun began Thursday night and where Ricky Rubio began to fall. Memphis, rumored to be possibly dealing its pick, snapped up Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2.
"I was surprised," admitted Thabeet, who recently canceled a workout for the Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City went for backcourt help, but away from the Spanish phenom and selected Arizona State scorer James Harden third. It was thought Rubio wouldn't get past Sacramento at No. 4. No dice as the Kings opted for Memphis guard Tyreke Evans.
Rubio sat through it all with a nervous smile as his sizable buyout from Spanish club DKV Joventut grew more daunting. Minnesota finally gave the 18-year-old showman reason to exhale with the first of the Timberwolves' four first-round picks. Rubio is trying to negotiate down the reported $6.6 million buyout. (The difference in salary on a rookie contract between the second and fifth picks is about $3.2 million over the three-year life of the deal.)
"If necessary, I'm going to pay the buyout," Rubio said. "We are closer to an agreement with [Joventut], so we are going to see."
Other first-round notables included Golden State snapping up Stephen Curry at No. 7, one spot before New York, and Tyler Hansbrough going higher than expected to Indiana at No. 13. Brandon Jennings, initially not in the Green Room because concerns he was falling in the Draft, ended up going 10th to Milwaukee. Jennings made his way to the WaMu Theater from his hotel not long after.
Knicks fans in attendance at the theater voiced their displeasure in a way only New Yorkers can when Curry went off the board. The NCAA scoring champ from Davidson could have been a perfect fit for Mike D'Antoni's system. The local rowdies were somewhat pacified with Arizona power forward Jordan Hill at eighth.
"That type of crowd, if they don't get what they want," Hill said, "they will give a couple of boos. But there was some that wanted me."
The first round proved point guard heavy, with 12 playmakers going in the first 27 picks. Minnesota took three -- Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson -- but is trading Lawson to Denver. Depending on what happens with a pair of free-agent starters in Philadelphia and Atlanta, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague, respectively, may take over the quarterbacking duties sooner rather than later.
The Clippers never wavered on their decision to select Griffin after bucking the odds to win the ping-pong derby 37 days ago. Now all the consensus collegiate player of the year has to do is play like top pick in the Draft and jumpstart the lottery regulars. Griffin joins a team with a logjam in the frontcourt, but the Clippers will make room.
"Hopefully I can bring something they don't have," Griffin said. "I know they have a lot of great players, but at the same time I'm excited about the opportunity."
While the Draft took center stage, there's been plenty of trade activity outside of Madison Square Garden lately. Shaquille O'Neal, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson headlined the changes of address in a series of seemingly one-sided trades that are reshaping contenders going into next season.
The biggest, in terms of sheer size and quote-ability, is Shaq's arrival as LeBron James' new sidekick in Cleveland. When the Cavaliers fell short of the MVP Finals, it was obvious the MVP needed more help. The question is whether James gets enough from a 37-year-old who experienced a career rebirth last season and is also headed to his fifth team.
"It is a really unique and rare opportunity to bring in a player of Shaq's caliber," Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry said. "We are excited to see how his presence, experience and play positively impacts our team."
The Magic knocked James and the Cavs out in the Eastern Conference finals, and they're not standing pat. Carter, one of the top shooting guards of the past decade, is headed to his hometown of Orlando for a package that includes starters Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee. The defending champion Lakers are also siege in the West, as rival San Antonio added a high-scoring complement to Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in Jefferson.
The Clippers likely won't be challenging their cross-town neighbors right away, but Griffin is a start. The 6-foot-10 All-American follows Derrick Rose (Chicago) as the latest No. 1 pick in the 44-year history of the Draft. The Clippers would be quite content with Griffin following in Rose's footsteps as the rookie of the year. Other notable top selections in recent years include LeBron (2003), last season's defensive player of the year (Dwight Howard) and perennial All-Star Yao Ming (2002).
The Clippers just have to hope their fortunes have turned around from previous No. 1s. L.A.'s other franchise selected Michael Olowokandi in 1998 and Danny Manning in 1988. Not exactly the Spurs' luck in snagging David Robinson in 1987 and Tim Duncan a decade later.
Griffin isn't concerned with the Clippers' checkered history and limited success -- they've made the Playoffs only four times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. Instead, the first Oklahoma product to go No. 1 is ready to be part of the brighter days ahead.
"I am. I'm not worried about anything that's happened in the past," said Griffin, who averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds during his second and last season at OU. "I wasn't a part of that. A lot of the guys that are there now weren't a part of it. We're only looking forward to the future."
If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.
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