BOSTON – Blake Griffin’s free-agency decision went down to the wire, but he discovered that it was ultimately an easy choice to make.
The six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA big man found himself leaning toward a basketball city which has always intrigued him, and an organization with which he envisions winning a championship.
On Monday morning, 15 days before the season-opener, Griffin officially signed with the Boston Celtics.
“Boston has always been one of those places as an NBA player where I feel like guys have a pretty cool experience playing there,” Griffin said Monday afternoon following his first practice in a Celtics uniform. “Beyond that, just the core they have, having Brad (Stevens) in the front office now, the coaches that they have – I actually played against Joe (Mazzulla) in college – this young core and the foundation they laid last year sets the table. This is the kind of opportunity you couldn't pass up.”
Griffin experienced the wrath of that young core last spring when he and the Brooklyn Nets were swept out of the first round by Boston. He took note of how “extremely disciplined” the Celtics were despite their youth and how hard they played every possession.
“It didn't seem like they cared how they got it done, they just got it done,” the former No. 1 overall draft pick recalled. “They were willing to outplay you, outhustle you, and a when a team with this much talent has that mentality, that's really tough.”
Being one of the most renowned hustle players in the NBA, Griffin should fit into this group just fine. Despite missing 26 games last season, he still led the league with 26 drawn charges. Derrick White (25) and Marcus Smart (16) also ranked among the top 10 in that category, so it’s safe to say that this Celtics team is not going to be afraid to put their bodies on the line.
Above all, Griffin should add stability for a group of bigs that’s currently a bit banged up. Boston will play the first two-plus months of the season without All-Defensive center Rob Williams as he recovers from knee surgery, and Luke Kornet is currently sidelined as well with a sprained ankle. And with Al Horford entering his 16th season, it can’t be expected of the 36-year-old vet to play big minutes every single game.
In a similar light, it also can’t be expected of Griffin to be the same uber-athletic 21-year-old Rookie of the Year who averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game and jumped over a Kia to win the Slam Dunk Contest.
Though, at 33 years old, he still has plenty to offer.
“He's got great experience, played alongside great players, great coaches,” said Mazzulla. “He’s a great basketball mind, and he's a big body for us that can help us do things on both ends of the floor."
Griffin may not be as explosive as he once was, but he has refined his game in other ways, such as with his defensive hustle and the 3-point shot he’s added to his game in recent years (he made 189 3-pointers on a 36.2 percent clip just three seasons ago).
The 6-foot-9 veteran say he’ll accept any role that the coaching staff assigns him, as long as he’s helping to get this team on a championship path.
“I think that’s just part of understanding who you are and where you are in your career,” Griffin said. “I think there’s an opportunity here and the biggest thing for me is playing meaningful basketball, playing basketball in the playoffs, and also being part of a good group. I think this place checks that list.”