NEW YORK — Even a team as inept as the Clippers was able to do the right thing Thursday night.
The Clippers made Blake Griffin, a 6-10 power forward from Oklahoma, the No. 1 player taken in the NBA draft. Griffin, widely considered to be the best player on the board, should make an immediate impact in an organization that has had just two winning seasons in the last 30 years.
"That's just history, that is in the past," Griffin said when asked if he was concerned about going to such a historically infirm franchise.
The Clippers' big day was overshadowed by a blockbuster trade that took place long before commissioner David Stern walked onto the stage of the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden to begin the NBA draft show.
Earlier Thursday, the Cavaliers announced they had completed a deal to bring Shaquille O'Neal from the Suns to join MVP LeBron James. The Cavs sent the Suns center Ben Wallace and swingman Sasha Pavlovic, along with a second-round pick in the 2010 draft and cash.
The move was a clear signal to the rest of the league that the Cavaliers are going for broke next season, which could be James' final one in Cleveland. James, in case you haven't heard, is a free agent in 2010. The Cavs, it seems, are out to show him that they will do whatever it takes to get him his first NBA championship.
O'Neal, 37, has one year and $21 million left on his contract. He has won four rings during his 17-year career, three with the Lakers and one with the Heat.
That wasn't the only trade involving a big-time player. Also before the draft, the Nets announced they were sending eight-time All-Star Vince Carter to the Magic along with Ryan Anderson. In return, the Nets received point guard Rafer Alston, shooting guard Courtney Lee and power forward Tony Battie. Though none of the three has the drawing power of Carter, they do have expiring contracts that will help the Nets clear $18 million off their 2010-2011 salary cap.
Griffin, who led the nation with an average of 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds last season at Oklahoma, was considered the only sure thing in a draft filled with question marks. With the second pick, the Grizzlies grabbed UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-3 former soccer player who took up basketball only a few years ago. An impressive rebounder and shot-blocker, Thabeet doesn't have much of an offensive game. Still, the Grizzlies found it tough to pass up someone with his size.
With the two best big men out of the way, the rest of the first round was dominated by point guards. Arizona State's James Harden became the first floor leader to go when the Thunder took him with the No. 3 overall pick.
After the Kings took Memphis shooting guard Tyreke Evans with the No. 4 pick, the Timberwolves took two point guards, Ricky Rubio of Spain and Syracuse's Jonny Flynn, with their back-to-back picks at Nos. 5 and 6. After Golden State crushed Knicks fans by taking Davidson guard Stephen Curry, the Knicks picked Jordan Hill, a 6-10 power forward out of Arizona.