Posted Jan 14 2010 11:15PM
This isn't what Blake Griffin envisioned when he shook David Stern's hand and squeezed a Los Angeles Clippers cap around his head on June 25. This isn't what he expected when he came down after a monster slam in the Clippers' final preseason game on Oct. 23.
Griffin looked at his left knee then and figured, like the rest of us, that it couldn't be that bad. There was pain, but no one hit him. He wasn't undercut. The landing was hardly awkward. The stress fracture was supposed to heal with time. There was thought the No. 1 pick would return before Christmas.
Instead, his rookie season becomes 2010-11. The Clippers announced Wednesday that Griffin would undergo season-ended surgery sometime in the near future. Griffin had begun to experience discomfort in his knee during rehab work that had amped up in recent weeks.
He's got to feel sick now. So does the rest of the Clippers organization and its long-suffering fans.
"It's a little disappointing, because he brings so much to the table," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told reporters Wednesday on a conference call. "As a group, we're coming together better all the time, and adding that talent to our lineup was something we were looking forward to."
The season had so much promise back in June, when the ping-pong balls came up Clipper. The consensus college player of the year from Oklahoma was universally viewed as the best player coming into the league and potential franchise building block. The 6-foot-8 forward had the right mix of poise, ability and personality to sell ... and to win.
Despite a jumper many found flaws with, Griffin didn't disappoint once stepped on the hardwood. He dominated during NBA Summer League, even with a strained shoulder, and continued to put up numbers during preseason. That's where it ended.
"There's still a sense that he hasn't been here all year so we've just got to move forward and do what we were planning on doing anyway, and try to make the playoffs," Dunleavy said.
The Clippers haven't exactly sunk without him. They're hovering near .500, center Chris Kaman is playing at an All-Star level, shooting guard Eric Gordon has blossomed as a sophomore, and point guard Baron Davis is happy, healthy and playing well.
Griffin would have fit in pretty good with that group.
"Blake learned a lot off the court [during his rehab]," Dunleavy said. "He's been very much in tune with everything we're doing, and he's just going to continue in that mode. I think he'll come back next season more prepared."
Griffin's college coach was dismayed by Wednesday's news.
"I hate to hear that Blake is having surgery and will miss the rest of the season," Oklahoma's Jeff Capel told NBA.com. "I know how much basketball means to him and I know his dream has always been to play amongst the greatest players in the world.
"However, I know he will approach this with the same determination he does with everything in his life, and will come back a hungrier and better player because of this."
For now, Griffin's name gets lumped with an unfortunate group of former No. 1 picks that had their rookie years derailed. Greg Oden comes to mind immediately, but the 2007 top selection is hardly alone. The Clippers also had Danny Manning (1988) go down early his rookie season after tearing his ACL. Patrick Ewing (1985), Pervis Ellison (1989), Kenyon Martin (2000), Kwame Brown (2001) and Andrea Bargnani (2006) are among those to miss significant parts of their first professional campaigns.
Losing Griffin, though, is doubly tough for a franchise whose fan base feels perpetually snakebit. They remember former lottery pick Shawn Livingston ripping up his knee three seasons into a promising career. They also remember busts like Michael Olowokandi, the 1998 No. 1 pick. Clipper Nation has enjoyed just two winning seasons and one playoff series victory in three decades. They're conditioned to expect the worst.
Asked about the "curse of the Clippers," Lakers coach Phil Jackson replied: "I'm not going to throw that out there. We called it the 'curse of Portland' last week, didn't we?"
Hopefully, the worst is behind Griffin. He's only 20, doesn't have a history of injuries and is apparently in good hands. Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who examined Griffin on Tuesday in Los Angeles, is performing the surgery. ElAttrache did the reconstructive surgery on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brandy's left knee in 2008.
Griffin is supposed to return to basketball in four to six months. Maybe he'll get to stay awhile.
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