By definition, the Los Angeles Clippers are "on the clock" with the first pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but they might as well have introduced Blake Griffin immediately after they won the draft lottery.Griffin, the reigning National Player of the Year, is an even greater lock to go No. 1 than LeBron James was in 2003. There hasn't been this much certainty about a top pick since San Antonio won the Tim Duncan sweepstakes 12 years ago.
Honestly, even the Clippers can't screw this one up.
Memphis, sitting at No. 2, isn't so lucky.
In a draft with only one sure-fire prospect, the Grizzlies seem to have narrowed their choices to two high-risk, high-reward prospects: Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio and Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet.
Either could be a star. And either could just as easily flop.
Unfortunately for the Griz, history isn't exactly on their side. The Memphis-Vancouver franchise has held the No. 2 pick three previous times and come away with next to nothing.
In 1998, after the Clippers settled on Pacific center Michael Olowokandi (we'll save that discussion for another day), the Grizzlies grabbed Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, who played three mediocre years in Vancouver before being shipped off to Sacramento. The Grizzlies passed on a franchise player, Vince Carter, and a career 20-point-per-game scorer in Antawn Jamison to select Bibby.
The ping-pong balls bounced Vancouver's way again in 1999, and the Grizzlies snatched up Maryland guard Steve Francis, who was vehemently opposed to ever donning that odd-colored Vancouver blue.
That leaves Ricky Rubio, a flashy, 18-year-old point guard with ball skills and intelligence far beyond his years. A few problems, though: Memphis recently invested a top-five selection in Mike Conley Jr., a 21-year-old floor general who improved his numbers in every single category from his rookie to sophomore campaign. In addition, Rubio is in the midst of a buyout squabble with DKV Joventut Badalona, his current Spanish club team. There is a chance he may not be able to join the NBA until 2011-2012. To complicate the situation even further, Rubio can pull a Steve Francis and refuse to sign with the Grizzlies and return to Spain if he is unhappy with the situation.
Those question marks open up the possibility that Memphis could go in another direction. Arizona State guard James Harden, a crafty left-handed scorer and reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, is the most NBA-ready player available aside from Griffin. But because the Grizzlies already have two blossoming swingmen in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, they may not see Harden fitting in their team.
How about Arizona's Jordan Hill? After he averaged 18.3 points, 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a junior at Arizona, it's clear that the 6-foot-10 Hill has the length (a 7-foot-1 wingspan), athleticism and energy to be a terror in the NBA. He's still rough around the edges, though, and would be an even greater gamble at No. 2 than Thabeet.
And if all else fails, Memphis can explore trade options. In a draft marred with such uncertainty, should Memphis opt for the proven veteran? Or should they take their chances on a wild card like Thabeet?
At this point, who knows?
Whatever they end up doing, the Grizzlies can only hope that the fourth time is the charm with the No. 2 pick.