Blake Griffin embraces new role as LA Clippers' top go-to guy

LA Clippers power forward Blake Griffin entered the summer of 2017 as one of the biggest names in the free-agency field. Once the Clippers officially traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, some were expecting Griffin to leave LA rather than bear more of the burden there by re-signing. Exactly the opposite happened, though, as Griffin agreed to a five-year max deal with the Clippers.

In an interview with Shams Charania of The Vertical, Griffin reveals that he embraces having the spotlight solely on him most nights and all the trappings that come with that. As well, he opens up about how new Clippers executive Jerry West challenged him in the summer and more:

West had been hired as a special consultant with the Clippers, and the first task he had embraced was persuading Griffin to re-sign with Los Angeles. For all of the voices in the final meeting before midnight, West’s resonated, and Blake returned.

“Jerry had a major voice to me, and he’s had an influence in coming and working on the culture here,” Griffin told The Vertical. “This franchise had unfinished business, and I had unfinished business here. We had unfinished business together and I valued that. We laid it out there that no matter what was going on around us, both sides hadn’t accomplished what we set out for.

“I couldn’t abandon this now.”

“I embrace the challenge,” Griffin told The Vertical. “With Chris gone, it changed our dynamic. For me, of course, I can look at it: I have the responsibility on my shoulder – all season. I have to do it. When Chris sat out, I was able to show it. I want to prove that I can sustain that style of play. Chris was one person, but we also lost J.J. [Redick], who I knew going into the free-agency process wouldn’t be back, Jamal [Crawford], who I thought we’d keep this summer but we had to move him around.

“So part of our core guys separated and that affected us. It changed the philosophy and we had to be accepting of the challenge.”

Griffin also discusses how the toe injury he suffered in the first round of the 2017 playoffs both frustrated and drove him to improve his game, something his coaches have noticed as well.

During the summer, Griffin’s approach toward improving his game is ferocious, displaying a passion for sharpening his craft and his body. Yet for him, his workout regimen is the reason why the numerous injuries he’s suffered over the course of his career are senseless. It’s why Griffin admits that he broke down mentally like never before after suffering a season-ending right toe injury last April, sulking in another lost year and personal setback.

“I’m not going to lie, after the toe injury last season, I cried,” Griffin told The Vertical. “I’ve put myself in the best possible positions, through my daily training and my recovery processes and my offseason regimen and preparation. I break down when I have these freak injuries happen, when the hard work is basically thrown out. I feel I put myself in all the right positions – and then this happens.

“It was by far the toughest, the most emotional injury for me. Again?

“It’s maniacal how much Blake puts into his work,” Clippers executive VP of basketball operations Lawrence Frank told The Vertical. “It’s why the fluke injuries hit him harder than anyone else, because everything he does is geared toward being the best he can be. What he puts into his body, how he prepares, how much rest he gets – he understands the science of the body as well as any player I’ve ever been around.

“There is no [expletive] to him. He’s improved his shot so much, but this is six years of work. Some guys, if they don’t get instant gratification, they’re done. He totally changed his entire stroke throughout his career. To us, he’s the most versatile power forward in the league.”

Griffin has built a calming presence since the 2016 physical incident with a team staff member, which cost him time with a broken hand. Paul had moments of loud, rah-rah messages, but those are no more, and Griffin has led a collective effort.

“There isn’t someone here always giving speeches now, and trying to rile up the guys by yelling in a fiery speech,” Griffin said. “We have been able to feel out the vibe of this locker room and understand which techniques work in every situation. Me and D.J. have tried to find effective ways to lead different guys. Me personally, I’m always going to lead by example first. But there are moments where I need to use my voice and go up to a guy and get my message across.”

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