NEW YORK — Blake Griffin heard the doubters who wondered why he was joining a college team coming off a 16-15 season.
“A lot of people, when I committed to Oklahoma, asked me, ‘Why did you commit there? Why didn’t you go to Kansas or Duke or somewhere like that?’ ” he recalled Tuesday. “I just said, ‘You’ll see in a couple years.’
“I’m a big believer in not always following the most popular thing to do. Make your own path. Do you own thing.”
Griffin won’t have a say in which team he joins in the NBA, with the Los Angeles Clippers expected to select him with the top pick in Thursday’s draft. But it’s a good thing he enjoys forging a new path. He’ll have to do just that to rewrite the history of a franchise best known for its blunders on and off the court.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Griffin said. “All that stuff happened in the past. That’s exactly what it is: It’s in the past. No one can do anything about it now. If I am with the Clippers, it’s going to be all about the future. No disrespect to anybody, but I could care less what happened 20 years ago, 15 years ago.”
Or this past season, when the Clippers went 19-63. But Griffin has made good on a guarantee of a turnaround once before. Oklahoma went 23-12 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament his freshman year. By his sophomore season, the Sooners were 30-6 and advanced to the national quarterfinals before Griffin turned pro.
Still, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly the Clippers of college basketball. The Sooners were a recently successful program sidetracked by NCAA violations, not one of the professional sports franchises most associated with ineptitude and misfortune.
Or maybe the Clippers just need a talent infusion. Griffin prefers to focus on the impact one well-timed draft pick can make on a team, recalling that the Cleveland Cavaliers were 17-65 before they received the top choice in 2003.
“Getting a guy like LeBron changes everything,” Griffin said. “I’m not trying to compare myself to him. But there’s been a lot of teams that were not so great, and you have to start somewhere. You have to grow from somewhere.”
Griffin could have turned pro after his freshman season, but felt he needed the extra year to fully prepare himself for the NBA. The 6-foot-10, 248-pound forward averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds in earning national player of the year honors as a sophomore.
He’ll have to lean on all that additional experience and basketball knowledge to try to lead a turnaround in L.A.
Griffin saw at Oklahoma how a team’s attitude evolves as players learn to win.
“It’s a different mind-set,” Griffin said. “You go into games – you respect your opponent, but you’re confident. It’s amazing the difference between a team that can win 20 games and a team that wins 30 games.”
Griffin was relaxed Tuesday as he dealt with the attention showered on the likely top pick. He shot hoops in a Manhattan park in a promotion as part of his new endorsement deal with Subway.
Every so often, Griffin thinks about what would have happened had he turned pro a year earlier.
“It’s interesting. I wonder where I would be,” he said. “Sometimes during the season last year I’d be like, ‘If I was in the NBA, what would I be doing right now? I probably wouldn’t be sitting in my apartment eating ramen noodles.’
“But I think it all worked out for the best.”
Spurs trade for Jefferson
The San Antonio Spurs acquired scoring swingman Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee in a four-player deal, giving the aging ex-champions needed offense.
The Spurs sent veterans Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Bucks in exchange for the 29-year-old Jefferson, who averaged 19.6 points in his one season with the Bucks.
Milwaukee then dealt Oberto to the Pistons for forward Amir Johnson. The trades give the Bucks more financial flexibility, the Spurs a proven scorer and the Pistons a veteran big man at a lower cost than Johnson.
Jefferson will play alongside the likes of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. San Antonio is coming off its shortest playoff run since 2000 and faded down the stretch with Duncan hobbled. Milwaukee unloaded Jefferson’s contract, which has two years and $29.2 million remaining. Jefferson became the Bucks’ best offensive threat after Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut went down with season-ending injuries, but the Bucks’ tight financial situation made a move necessary.
Milwaukee does not want to pay the NBA’s luxury tax, which last year hit teams dollar-for-dollar once they reach $71.15 million in total payroll.
T-Wolves trade for No. 5
The Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to trade guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Washington Wizards for the fifth overall draft pick and three players, leaving Minnesota with four first-round choices and plenty of ammunition to do even more wheeling and dealing.
Two NBA officials with knowledge of the deal confirmed that the trade had been agreed upon Tuesday night. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been completed.
The deal would give Minnesota the fifth and sixth selections in Thursday’s NBA draft, as well as forwards Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov.
New Minnesota Timberwolves president David Kahn declined comment.
The Timberwolves also have the 18th and 28th selections in the first round, giving them the resources to potentially trade up even higher.
Oklahoma City officials are reassessing an ongoing $100 million renovation of the arena where the Oklahoma City Thunder play, because a the one-penny sales tax increase that was supposed to fund it has yielded $29.8 million so far, or 12.6 percent less than the $34 million projected. … The Charlotte Bobcats will not to make a one-year qualifying offer of $3.7 million to power forward Sean May, making him an unrestricted free agent.