Ex-Warriors GM Riley: Blake Griffin Topped Steph Curry on 2009 NBA Draft Board

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2020

NBA commissioner David Stern,center, poses with NBA draft prospects Hasheem Thabeet, top, from the University of Connecticut, Stephen Curry, left, from Davidson, Ricky Rubio, second from right, of Spain,  and  Blake Griffin, right, of Oklahoma, before the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 25, 2009  in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Things might have gone very differently for the Golden State Warriors if they won the 2009 NBA draft lottery. 

The Warriors selected Stephen Curry with the seventh overall pick that year. According to The Athletic's Marcus Thompson, Golden State general manager Larry Riley valued Curry highly going into the draft but had him second behind Blake Griffin:

"Now, to his credit, Riley was always talking about Curry. He was the type of GM who would chat with you. I remember on many occasions we were talking about prospects and he brought up Steph. ...  So I know this for a fact—Larry Riley was all over Steph waaaaay before the 2009 draft.

"But as Steph blew up, and the Warriors ended up with the No. 7 pick, he just didn't think Curry would be available. Their board was 1. Blake Griffin, 2. Steph Curry. He could've been lying to me, but he said that to me and I think (SF Chronicle beat writer) Rusty Simmons. They were expecting to land Jordan Hill. Riley and Nelson even flew to Memphis to talk to Monta Ellis, who was unhappy, and told him—according to what my sources told me—that they got on the same page with Monta, including that he would be the point guard."

Curry will obviously be remembered as the best player to come out of the 2009 draft class. At the time, however, listing Griffin in the No. 1 slot wasn't exactly controversial.

Griffin averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds in his sophomore season at Oklahoma. He was also a first-team All-American and swept every major individual award while helping the Sooners reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

And as Thompson laid out, Griffin would've made sense on a team that already included Monta Ellis in the backcourt and often called upon Corey Maggette to play power forward.

Luckily for the Warriors, they didn't win the lottery, and even more fortuitously, the Minnesota Timberwolves passed on Curry to select point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the No. 5 and 6 picks.

Of course, Golden State still needed some good fortune to lay the foundation for their eventual dynasty.

Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick reported in December 2011 the Warriors were willing to move Curry, Klay Thompson and 2010 first-round pick Ekpe Udoh in a trade for Chris Paul. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t RealGM), Paul wasn't willing to sign an extension with the Warriors or Boston Celtics, another team attempting to acquire him.

The Athletic's Ethan Sherwood Strauss brought up the failed trade in his book, The Victory Machine.

"The Hornets weren't the only organization to narrowly lose out on the deal of a lifetime," Strauss wrote (h/t Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman). "According to one GM, 'The Warriors were blind lucky that they were unsuccessful in trading Steph and Klay together for the stars they offered them together for,' he said. 'There were many, many people they tried to get and failed.'"

Riley refuted the rumor to 95.7 The Game in April:

95.7 The Game @957thegame

“I can tell you right now, that never happened.” Former #Warriors GM Larry Riley shoots down the Curry/Klay for CP3 trade report https://t.co/E3KVrPrhL4

Some might counter Riley has an incentive to minimize any trade discussions involving Curry and Thompson in order to come out on the right side of history.

Regardless, Golden State needed plenty of things to break right to enjoy its run of three championships in five years.