CLIPPERS DRAFT MISSES
The NBA Draft is an inexact science. Sure things can turn into busts just as quickly as a diamond in the rough can be uncovered or happened upon when no one expects it. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have selected as high as first overall (three times) and as low as 25th, which they have also done three times, but only once (2013) with their own pick. In attempting to construct a team through the Draft or add key pieces and assets, the Clippers have been on the wrong side of a fair share of picks, but also have made some wise selections in other years.
Here is a list of the five biggest misses the Clippers made on Draft night based on what players were selected behind them and how they fared in Los Angeles:
It was a bizarre Draft in 2002. Three of the top six picks are no longer in the league. The Clippers had two selections the lottery and while it is arguable that Chris Wilcox at No. 8, a pick ahead of multi-time All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Caron Butler, was not an ideal selection, at least Wilcox is still in the league and helped net the Clippers Vladimir Radmanovic at the trade deadline during their 2006 playoff run. Ely, on the other hand, was dealt along with Eddie House in the 2004 offseason for a pair of second-round picks.
Ely was essentially a redundancy of Wilcox, two big guys picked within four spots of each other, being added to a team that already had a young power forward in Elton Brand. He played 94 games with the Clippers, averaged 4.2 points and shot 43.1 percent in year two. Since 2007 he has signed as a free agent with four teams and been waived within a year, and played in Puerto Rico and the Development League. All of that comes after a standout high school career in Illinois, where he was named a McDonald’s All-American and becoming a two-time Western Athletic Conference player of the year at Fresno State.
Oh, to have been a little luckier in 1983-84. The San Diego Clippers finished 30-52 the season before moving to Los Angeles and selecting Lancaster Gordon in the 1984 Draft. Had they been a little worse or a little luckier in the lottery, the Clippers may have vaulted higher than No. 8, missing out on Hakeem Olajuwon (No. 1), Michael Jordan (No. 3), Sam Perkins (No. 4), Charles Barkley (No. 5) and Alvin Robertson (No. 7). You can’t hold it against Gordon or the Clippers for not landing a higher lottery pick.
However, the Clippers passed on a pair of durable, NBA big men and a Hall of Fame point guard. Otis Thorpe and Kevin Willis went within three picks of Gordon, an effective scoring guard at Louisville, and John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time assist leader, went No. 16. The Clippers actually passed on Stockton twice, choosing Michael Cage at No. 14 that same year. Cage had a solid NBA career. Gordon, though, was out of the league in four years, relegated to several stints in the Continental Basketball Association. In four years with the Clippers, Gordon averaged 5.6 points on 39.1 percent shooting.
The Olowokandi selection is often cited as one of the bigger misses in recent NBA history. It certainly doesn’t look good when Mike Bibby, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter go in three of the next four picks and Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki go later in the lottery. The crazy part is that Olowokandi had a better career than it seems at first glance. He played five seasons in Los Angeles, improving his scoring average, rebounding and shot-blocking nearly year-by-year. It was incremental and nowhere near worthy of a No. 1 overall pick, but Olowokandi was viewed as a project from the get go. He had one incredible season at Pacific and had people thinking Hakeem Olajuwon 2.0 at the time.
The Clippers weren’t the only ones either. Scouts raved about his potential, hands, quickness and length. He was a legitimate 7-footer with a 7-foot-8 wingspan. The selection, though, was doomed by the fact that Olowokandi went No. 1 and the greatness of the players behind him. Bibby was a star freshman, Carter a sensation and Nowitzki and Pierce emerged as a pair of this generation’s best players. Of course, Raef LaFrentz went No. 3, and while his demise was mostly due to injury, he only played 63 more games than Olowokandi and scored fewer than two points more.
In 1987 the Clippers drafted a long-armed small forward who they thought could eventually turn into a defensive stopper and versatile scorer. The problem? Reggie Williams was not Scottie Pippen, who went one pick later at No. 5 to Seattle. A Georgetown star, Williams had two decent seasons with the Clippers before being dealt to Cleveland along with the rights to Danny Ferry for Ron Harper and a first round pick that netted Loy Vaught. In that sense, Williams was more valuable to the Clippers than the others on this list.
However, it is hard to ignore the possibilities of passing on Williams, who averaged 12.5 points in 599 career games, including three very productive seasons with Denver. They could have gone with Pippen or taken UCLA star Reggie Miller, who went No. 11 to Indiana. Even two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith and Phoenix Suns star Kevin Johnson were available at No. 4.
Three significant factors played a role in the quick decline of the 2006 Clippers team that lost in seven games to the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the playoffs. First, Shaun Livingston’s devastating knee injury in January 2007. Second, the free-agent acquisition of Tim Thomas the following offseason. And finally, the inability to capitalize on the No. 12 overall pick in the Draft a year earlier. The Clippers could have positioned themselves with a mix of youngsters (Livingston and whoever they picked at No. 12), an emerging center (Chris Kaman), cap space, and veterans (Elton Brand and Cuttino Mobley). However, Livingston got hurt, they committed long-term to Thomas and chose little-known Russian forward Yaroslav Korolev in 2005.
Danny Granger, who played the same position, was available, but somehow fell to No. 17. Korolev, meanwhile, played 34 NBA games and scored a total of 39 points. He has played in Spain, Moscow, St. Petersburg and twice in the D-League since, but never returned to the NBA. The results of the pick were at least better than Orlando’s selection of Spanish forward Fran Vasquez at No. 11. Vasquez, who was rumored to be coming to the NBA several times over the years, ultimately decided to stay in Spain and is yet to play a game. At least in that case, there is a sense of the unknown.