GRIFFIN'S COMMITMENT TO CLIPPERS AN UNPRECEDENTED STEP
Blake Griffin has committed to the Clippers for at least another five seasons.
Let that sink in.
When the clock read 9:01 p.m. PST Wednesday night in Las Vegas, where the superstar forward is training in preparation for his first Olympic Games, Clippers President Andy Roeser and Director of Player Personnel Gary Sacks were on hand to quietly secure Griffin's signature on a new contract. The extension does not kick in until Griffin's rookie deal expires at the end of the upcoming season, meaning he'll remain a face of the franchise through 2017-18 or beyond.
Words like huge, giant, or big hardly do justice in describing what this means for the Clippers. Try Herculean for an organization that has prided itself on a well-documented cultural shift since Griffin, a consensus AP All-American and Naismith Award winner, arrived via the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft. Because of Griffin's ascent as well as a variety of other factors, he is the Clippers' only first round pick to agree to a long-term extension, a period from 1995, the beginning of the current era of rookie-scale contracts, to 2012. Out of all of them, Griffin was the player the Clippers most had to retain and they did so at their first opportunity.
"Extending Blake was obviously a priority for our franchise," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's one of our cornerstones and we're excited about what he's going to continue to bring on and off the court in Los Angeles for years to come."
It's symbolic that the team still keeps the winning ping-pong balls from the draft lottery in a display case at their training facility in Playa Vista. So much so that Griffin will likely be responsible for adding to the hardware someday soon.
One-hundred forty eight regular season games have passed since he sprinted down the middle of the floor to catch an alley-oop from Randy Foye at the front of the rim for his first-career NBA basket on Oct. 27, 2010 versus Portland. "You've got to love it," commentator and former head coach Hubie Brown said during the telecast. "This is what you get with this young man: 6-10, 250 [pounds], runs like a deer, incredible hands, as well as jumping ability."
Through those 148 games, Griffin's already testing the historical parameters of what makes an elite NBA big man. He has averaged 21.7 points, 11.5 rebounds (3.3 offensive), and 3.5 assists, while shooting 52.4% from the floor. While he's often compared to Hall of Famer Karl Malone, the Mailman managed just 18.3 points, 9.7 boards, and 2.4 assists on 50.4% shooting during his first two seasons in Utah.
From a numbers perspective, Griffin, a two-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA selection, is already carving a path to greatness. However, he's also become an ambassador for the new-look Clippers, proving that work ethic, toughness, and resolve are part of what makes a winner. He trains relentlessly, running sand dunes with weight vests, keeping to a meticulous diet, and was among the first players back in the gym after the team's ride through the Western Conference playoffs was cut short by the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. In 11 postseason games, he played through a knee sprain, hard fouls, and a tooth that gashed through his upper lip. He's marketable, good natured, and humble. In three years since he was drafted, he's been steadfast from a character standpoint as much as his skill level, giving the Clippers reason to build around him.
The team swiftly recognized Griffin as a franchise changer. After one season with Griffin at the helm, they acquired superstar and fellow Olympian Chris Paul, giving the team an unprecedented duo. There's even a chance Griffin's commitment could help the team retain Paul, who will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2012-13 season.
On Tuesday, the point guard offered his teammate congratulations. "Blake absolutely deserves it [the extension] with what he's done for this franchise - that can't be matched," Paul said. "I'm happy for him."
Griffin made the decision to re-up with the only professional team he's known sound easy, telling ESPN Los Angeles earlier this week that he's "not a believer in breaking up something that's working." It seems since he caught that first lob against Portland, everything has worked brilliantly.
Thanks in large part to their 23-year-old star the Clippers would likely say the same.