Four years later as the teams prepare to meet Monday night at Verizon Center, Griffin is set to start in the all-star game for the second year in a row and the Clippers have assembled a championship contender around him. The Wizards are tied for the NBA’s worst record and headed toward another lottery appearance.
“Getting Blake Griffin has definitely changed this franchise and this organization around, to say the least,” said Clippers forward Caron Butler, who was a member of the Wizards at the time of the 2009 draft.
Griffin missed the season after the draft with a fractured left patella, and led the Clippers to just 32 wins as a rookie. But he set the foundation for what came next, with his talent, athleticism and high-flying dunks making a no-hope franchise an attractive destination for free agents — and for a generational point guard seeking to force a trade.
When Chris Paul was dealt to the Clippers last season — with some assistance from NBA Commissioner David Stern, who diverted him away from the Los Angeles Lakers in a controversial trade veto — an organization was transformed from mere novelty to serious title threat.
Getting traded to the Clippers was once considered a punishment but Paul embraced the challenge, in part because he didn’t know all that it entailed. In their first 27 years in Los Angeles, the Clippers had a .349 winning percentage (762-1,420), made five postseason appearances and won just one playoff series.
“I think when I got here, I didn’t care about the history, didn’t think much about the history and anything that happened prior to me being here,” Paul said recently. “I’m not being arrogant or anything by that means, but I wasn’t here. I know how I feel and I know how I approach things, so it didn’t matter to me.”
Paul added that he was more confident about joining the Clippers because of “the groundwork they had already. You had Blake. You had [center] DeAndre Jordan. And since I’ve been here, it’s been amazing.”
Paul is currently out with a bruised kneecap, but even with the Clippers (34-15) having lost six of their past eight games, including five of seven without him, they are having the best season in franchise history. Since acquiring Paul, the Clippers have a .649 winning percentage (74-40).
After winning a title with Dallas in 2011, Butler visited the Clippers and was blown away by the presentation from Coach Vinny Del Negro and Neil Olshey, the team’s general manager at the time. They told Butler that the Clippers were serious about becoming a championship organization “and I was a believer. I can kind of read through situations, and I was real positive about that.”