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As anticipation builds, draft order is quickly set

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted May 20 2009 8:33AM

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Many of the men in Conference Room 3A at the NBA Entertainment offices -- men who have worked long and worked hard to get where they are -- control things: NBA franchises, conglomerations, fortunes.

But on Tuesday, they had a sense of helplessness as the randomness of chance played a huge part in the immediate future of the franchises they represented at the NBA Draft Lottery. So, they often try to counter luck with lucky charms.

John Kehriotis, minority owner of the Sacramento Kings, had "The Man," a purple koosh ball with yellow legs and arms and a mask like the Lone Ranger. Sam Presti, executive vice president of the Oklahoma City Thunder, had a compass. And Greg Campbell, the Memphis Grizzlies president of business operations, had a St. Christopher medal given to him by a season ticket holder.

Turns out the man with the best good luck charm sat two floors down and he wore it well.

About 20 minutes after NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver revealed the Los Angeles Clippers had won the NBA Draft Lottery, Clippers president Andy Roeser casually flipped open his suit jacket during an interview with NBA TV to reveal his wife had a Clippers jersey with the No. 1 sewn into the lining on one side and the No. 23 -- Blake Griffin's number at Oklahoma -- on the other.

"It's just a player's number we were thinking about," Roeser said.

On June 25, we'll find out whether Griffin, the experts' consensus top pick and the 2009 Wooden Award winner, truly suits the Clippers' needs.

Mike Dunleavy, the Clippers coach and general manager, has been in this position before. In 1994, Duneavy was the coach and GM of the Milwaukee Bucks when they leapt Minnesota, Detroit and Dallas to snag the No. 1 overall pick, which they used on another Wooden Award winner, Glenn Robinson.

As for the Clippers' draft board: Is it set?

"Believe me, by the time Adam was done reading off our name," Roeser said, "Coach Dunleavy and assistant general manager Neil Olshey are well on their way to scheduling a short number of workouts and deciding what we're going to do with that pick.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we know what we're doing within the next couple days."

Despite the sartorial good luck charm, the Clippers weren't so lucky in 2008-09. After signing point guard Baron Davis as a free agent and getting center Marcus Camby for the low, low price of a second round pick, the Clippers looked as if they could challenge for a postseason spot. But everything went wrong and they finished 19-63.

The bad luck continued on April 19, when they lost a tiebreaker with the Washington Wizards. In losing, the Clippers would receive one fewer combination -- 177 -- than the Wizards' 178.

Losing that tiebreaker turned out to be the best thing for the Clippers, as the first combination -- 5, 3, 6, 10 -- would have been the Wizards' combination had they lost the tiebreaker.

"[Nets president] Rod Thorn was there, with [Washington GM] Ernie [Grunfeld] and I," Roeser said, "and Rod told me I was going to lose that flip. I was a little mad that he was right, but upon losing it, I thought, 'That's not the one that matters, the one that matters is today.'"

Everyone gathering in 3A, however, had to wait for a reaction, as the Clippers, along with the Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, didn't have a representative in the room. So, there was no loudly whispered "Yes!", no clandestine fist pump, no handshakes with anyone else.

Silence enveloped the conference room and Kheriotis, Presti and Wizards lottery room rep, director of PR, Scott Hall, leaned forward in anticipation. After the second combination -- 5, 6, 3, 4 -- also belonged the Clippers, they had to redraw for the No. 2 overall pick.

Still more waiting as the balls tumbled through the drum and one-by-one they popped out: 9-5-11-14.

"The Memphis Grizzlies."

Campbell didn't say a word. He didn't want to say a word. To prevent showing any excitement, he popped a pretzel into his mouth from the plate in front of him.

"I'm real excited inside," Campbell said after having a few moments have it sink in. "I didn't want to do it in front of the other 13 people."

Memphis was another team that benefitted from losing their tiebreaker on April 19, as the Grizzlies finished with an identical 24-58 record with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Had the Grizzlies won, the Timberwolves would have had that sequence of digits.

But there was one position -- No. 3 -- left to determine and none of the guys at the front table -- Kehriotis, Hall or Presti -- the teams with the best chances to snag No. 1, had seen their numbers pop through the lottery drum.

Finally, 14, 6, 13, 3, a sequence belonging to the Oklahoma City Thunder, made it through, and that was it. The Lottery itself took no more than 10 minutes. The waiting in 3A took 10 times as long.

Kehriotis, who keeps "The Man" on his desk in his Santa Clara, Calif. office, was disappointed by dropping out of the top spot, but heartened by the fact he thinks the Kings can get a decent player at No. 4.

"You always want the first pick ... or second pick or third," Kehriotis said. "Every time the ball didn't drop, your heart dropped a little bit.

"But I think having the top four pick will be great for us."

Presti, meanwhile, saw his team rise one spot, from No. 4 to No. 3. In a Draft where experts see Griffin and Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio as the top two, there may not be much of a difference between three and four.

"That's a tough question because you don't know what the two teams in front of you are going to do," Presti said. "You would rather have the third pick than the fourth pick, but you try not to complicate it too much. We're happy we moved up a spot compared to last year when we moved down two spots."

As he talked, Presti held a little silver compass in his hand as he talked during the wait. He collects them and finds them symbolic. On Tuesday, it showed Presti where the Thunder would be on June 25.

"It moved us north of No. 4," Presti said.

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