Possibly preparing for life without Corey Maggette, the Clippers on Thursday selected forward Al Thornton of Florida State in the first round of the NBA draft, choosing a player they think can make an immediate impact.
The Clippers focused on the present, taking Thornton with the No. 14 overall pick instead of others who might need more seasoning to become NBA-ready performers, and they also moved to protect themselves if Maggette terminates his contract after next season. By adding the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Thornton, the Clippers get a boost of athleticism and youth on the wing.
Although draft evaluators thought the team would turn elsewhere, the Clippers say they got their top-rated guy.
"We were ecstatic to get Al Thornton," General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "He was the first player on our list, and we were just pleased and surprised he was there, because we thought he would be gone before then.
"He's the type of player who we believe can come right in and play. He's a high-energy player, he's a scorer and he plays hard on both ends of the floor. We're just really excited to have him."
Considered an elite athlete and an aggressive scorer, Thornton, 23, played four years at Florida State and averaged 19.7 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior. He wasn't among the players the Clippers evaluated in individual pre-draft workouts and interviews, but Baylor and his player-personnel staff had seen Thornton in action throughout his career with the Seminoles, and Coach Mike Dunleavy traveled to Phoenix on Wednesday to watch him work out for the Suns.
Apparently, Dunleavy liked the show.
"Night in, night out, his effort is off the charts," Dunleavy said. "He's very aggressive and he competes. That's the first and foremost thing you're looking for. You look for guys who compete and guys who have skills. He has both of them."
Julian Wright of Kansas, Nick Young of USC and Thaddeus Young of Georgia Tech also were among the players on the Clippers' draft board. The Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Hornets made the Clippers' decision easier, Philadelphia selecting Thaddeus Young with the No. 12 pick and New Orleans taking Wright with the Clippers on deck.
With Nick Young available, the Clippers took Thornton. The Washington Wizards then tabbed Young at No. 16.
"We wanted someone who could play right away for us, contribute right away for us, and that's basically how we ranked players," Dunleavy said. "Of those guys, he [Thornton] was our No. 1 guy."
At Florida State, Thornton had only 87 assists in 124 games, and his ball-handling (he had 215 turnovers in four seasons) and decision-making are areas where he could improve, scouts said, but Thornton is confident he's ready to join the rotation.
"Being in school for four years, being able to mature physically, mentally and socially has prepared me to be ready," Thornton said in a conference call.
The Clippers did not have a first-round selection in the 2006 draft, and their 2005 lottery pick, Yaroslav Korolev, has not developed as expected.
The 20-year-old Russian forward played in 24 games as a rookie and only 10 in the 2006-07 season. The team in October declined to exercise the third-year option in the contract of the former 12th overall pick, making him an unrestricted free agent after the season.
With their second-round pick (No. 45 overall), the Clippers selected point guard Jared Jordan of Marist.
Jordan averaged 17.2 points as a senior and twice led Division I in assists, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since Avery Johnson did it for Southern in the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons.
The Clippers exercised the option in Quinton Ross' contract. The defensive specialist's salary increases to $770,000 in the 2007-08 season.
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The Clippers selected Al Thornton with their first-round pick Thursday:
* First-round pick: 14th overall.
* School: Florida State.
* Position: Forward.
* Age: 23.
* Points per game: 19.7.
* Rebounds per game: 7.2.
* It's a fact: Thornton joined Acie Law IV of Texas A&M as the only seniors chosen in the lottery.