PLAYA VISTA,CA-Now that all the smoke and mirrors have cleared, Blake Griffin is still standing as the cornerstone for the Los Angeles Clippers to bank their future on. It was that way when the Clippers took Griffin as the No. 1 selection back in the 2010 NBA Draft. The Clippers knew then they had a potential franchise player.
They know it now.
That’s why the Clippers signed Griffin to a five-year, $173 million contract extension. It makes sense. Griffin is prime-time. He’s 28-year-old. He’s a five-time All-Star. As far as power forward goes, Griffin is in the Top 2 tier the NBA, if not the best. His best days have yet to come.
“This has been my home since I was drafted,” Griffin said a press conference held by the Clippers after his extension signing. “A lot went into this decision for me, not only what was best for me and my family, but just the quality of people and work that we have here, that goes from the owners all the way down to the coaching staff to the roster…everything from day-to-day. I think with Steve Ballmer, Doc (Rivers) and Lawrence (Frank), all the way. Then I realized this was a no-brainer for me. This is the best place for me. This is the place where I want to start and finish my career.”
The Clippers needed a player to build an identity around this offseason. Would it be the older, steadier player in point guard Chris Paul or would it be the younger and more dynamic Griffin?
Keeping both players would have been difficult. The Clippers had a choice to make.
Paul and his Lob City theatrics was traded to the Houston Rockets. Then the boom-boom effect took place with Jamal Crawford being traded away and J.J. Redick departing from the team through free agency.
What was left for the Clippers to hold onto after a successful stint in which they made the playoffs in six of the seven years that Griffin has played for the team, was to lock up the former NBA T-Mobile Rookie of the Year.
That contract extension did just that. Given how the Western Conference got that much deeper and more competitive by all the trades and free agency pickups this summer, Griffin’s signing made everyone in Clipper Nation sign off on a sign of relief.
“One of the best passing, best scoring, best defending big men in our history of our franchise,” Coach Doc Rivers said of Griffin. “The fact that we could get Blake and keep him and build around Blake will be phenomenal for us. Our goals haven’t changed. And the fact that we brought Blake back is a big thing for us. But the message for me, more importantly than anything, is that I want to be a Clipper. That is one of the things when we all came here, we want that. This organization hasn’t had that. The fact that we have that now-that message-is huge for us.”
What’s also a big deal is how the Clippers have managed to deflect all the outside noise from what they’re trying to accomplish as a franchise. At the end of last season, it was the drama surrounding center DeAndre Jordan.
This offseason, the Clippers lost three of their starters. Staying focused to the task as hand, the Clippers got Griffin, a player constantly linked to trade rumors, to buy into what they’re selling as an organization. It must have been a pretty good sales pitch because Griffin didn’t even bother to meet with other teams.
“I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time,” Griffin said. “Once I met with the Clippers, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want them to fly in and I sit through whatever (I’m) sure was going to be an awesome presentation. But those teams needed to be able to have room and have time to make decisions, so I didn’t want to tie anybody up and make them to go through the process when I already knew what I was doing.”
Rivers said he appreciates that Griffin wasn’t trying to drag the process out like some players would.
“One of the things I really appreciate is that a lot of guys don’t do this,” Rivers said. “A lot of guys like to parade., if you know what I’m saying. I was very honest with Blake. I said, ‘This is your home. This is the best place for you. But more importantly, the sooner you commit to us and say this is where you want to be, then we can do our job. We can’t go get Galo (Dalino Gallinari) and Milo (Teodosic).’”
“I said they’re not coming if you’re not here. If you wait too long, they’ll be gone. Blake had those two meetings scheduled. After we met, he told us to go in the other room and give him a couple of minutes. He came back out and said, ‘I’m done. I’m not going to do the visitis. I need you guys to go do your work.’ And then the only thing he said, ‘now do your work.’”
For six of his seven seasons, Griffin shared the spotlight with Paul and center DeAndre Jordan as the Clippers’ Big Three. Lob City was their calling card. Not anymore. In six seasons, The Big Three produced five seasons of winning 50 games or more for the Clippers, a streak never achieved before by the franchise.
Even though they lost four key players from their roster, having Griffin around for the next five years is a big plus for the Clippers. What the Clippers get out of him will be critical for the team’s success. Griffin missed was forced to drop out of the postseason the last two seasons because of freak injuries.
But the baller man gives the Clippers two things they desperately need: a bona fide star that can generate enough fan juice to get people in the seats at Staples Center. Having box-office appeal doesn’t hurt at all. One of the most exciting spectacle in all of basketball is watching Griffin fly up and over people for a power dunk.
But there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Griffin and his aerial ways. He’s a lot more than a flying dunker. Griffin has skills. He’s got the inside game with those power moves. He’s developed a nice mid-range and outside game. He’s now Mr. Inside Out for the Clippers.
Now with Paul and his immeasurable talents passed on Houston, Griffin is going to have to dip into the paint a little bit more often and continue to improve his perimeter game. How that translate to flowing with defensive stopper in point guard Patrick Beverly and swingman Dalino Gallinari on the court, everyone will just have to wait and see.
“Like Doc said, we have a lot of unfinished business here,” said Griffin. “This next chapter, this next season, for the Clippers and for myself, I’ve never been more excited about an opportunity. I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”