Continuing with staff re-tooling, today we bring a new installment from the next ClipperBlogger, Jovan Buha. Jovan is an Associate Sports Editor for NeonTommy.com and a sports broadcaster for KXSC radio. Follow him on Twitter: @JovanBuha
Remember when the media hinted that Blake Griffin could eventually surpass Kobe Bryant as the “King of LA”? Well, it appears his time has arrived.
With the Lakers’ hopes of a three-peat dashed and Bryant’s body failing him, it appears Griffin’s time to take over the spotlight in Los Angeles might come sooner than later. Griffin’s hustle, humility, double-doubles, spin-moves and high-flying dunks will only get him so far, though. Ultimately, the best way for Griffin to etch his mark in LA’s royalty is to simply win basketball games (and hopefully championships).
If anyone is capable of overcoming the daunting task and defying expectations, though, it’s the 2011 Rookie of the Year.
When the season started, most analysts were torn between picking Griffin or the Washington Wizard’s John Wall as the Rookie of the Year. After the first few weeks of the season, though, that competition was over. Griffin defied any critics, breaking out to the tune of 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, breathing life into a sometimes-lifeless franchise. His rookie season was so impressive that it was unanimously labeled one of the best, if not the best, since Michael Jordan. Yes, that is a Clippers’ player being compared to the GOAT in a good way (not in a I-wish-I-didn’t-draft-Kwame-Brown way).
An All-Star Game appearance, a Rookie of the Year award, and 214 dunks later, and Griffin has already become a top-20 player in the NBA (and arguably a top-5 big man). All of this, mind you, was achieved while still in the midst of developing a reliable long-range jump shot, decent free-throw shooting skills or consistent defensive performances. With so much room to grow, he could easily become a top-5 player in the League, a potential MVP candidate and wait for it… a Hall-of-Famer.
As far as his public perception goes, Griffin has the necessary qualities to blossom into a superstar. He has the humbleness of Kevin Durant, the athletic ability of LeBron James, the physique of Dwight Howard, the work ethic of Kobe Bryant, the skill of Karl Malone, the dunking ability of Shawn Kemp and the wry sense of humor of Phil Jackson. His Kia commercial, in which he famously slams home an alley-oop over a sedan, is still running throughout the NBA playoffs, giving both Griffin and the Clippers continuous exposure that they’ve never had before. Griffin is the Clippers’ biggest “rock star” ever. Maybe their only one. And he did it all in one season.
Basically, it would take a catastrophic failure for Griffin not to reach these heights. He is further along in one season than Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard were at the time. Think about that.
Add in potential All-Star Eric Gordon, and you have the recipe of one of the NBA’s best dynamic duos. At this point in his career, honestly, Gordon is actually a little further along offensively than Griffin, capable of taking over games with his shooting and relentless drives (when healthy). If Blake is the King of LA, Gordon is definitely the Prince. Which brings me to the Joker – DeAndre Jordan.
This off-season, when Jordan will become a restricted free agent, will be the first of a few that define the Clippers’ future. Next summer, Gordon will test the waters (presumably). And last but not least, in the summer of 2013 (if the world still exists) Blake Griffin will become a restricted free agent.
The first domino is Jordan. If the front-office is committed to winning (which they appear to be), they will re-sign the southpaw big man, proving to Griffin and Gordon they are serious about becoming contenders in what appears to be a wide-open Western Conference. Unless he receives a ridiculous offer upwards of $10 million per year, Jordan (who is also Griffin’s best friend) should remain in the red, white and blue.
If they follow that blueprint, the Clippers will have an impressive trio of Griffin, Gordon and Jordan moving forward, with the back-up roles occupied by rookies Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe. With the potential to make major additions through free agency, the draft and trades (please tell me there’s a market for Chris Kaman and Mo Williams), there couldn’t be a better time to be a Clipper player or fan.
Next season, if all goes as planned, the Clippers will have a healthy young squad led by the tandem of Griffin and Gordon. With a season’s experience under their belt, the elusive goal of making the playoffs will definitely be within reach. And if this season’s playoffs are any indication, the rise from bottom dweller to potential conference champion doesn’t have to take half a decade (just ask Oklahoma City and Memphis).
The Clippers of old would find a way to mess this situation up. Whether it be making a bad trade, taking an unnecessary risk in the draft, not re-signing a key piece, signing an underachiever or suffering an injury to a franchise player (outside of their control), Sterling & Co. would find a way to maximize their bad luck. These aren’t your normal Clippers, though. The front office has drafted well in recent seasons (Gordon, Jordan, Griffin, Aminu, Bledsoe), got rid of team enigmas (Baron Davis, Al Thornton, Rasual Butler and Ricky Davis) and added complimentary pieces at reasonable prices (Williams, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith).
Honestly, something in the air feels different. It feels new.
With that said, the Clippers probably won’t surpass the Lakers next season. In fact, if they come within 10 games of the former back-to-back champions, that will be a success. At the same time, with Bryant’s recent lack of invincibility, Gasol’s “soft” label and Bynum’s never-ending health concerns, Griffin is primed to steal the spotlight in Los Angeles.
NBA fans may mock the Clippers, but they won’t sleep on them with Blake on the team. The Clippers are closing the gap between themselves and their hall-mates, so don’t be surprised when Griffin becomes LA’s new mayor, and the Clippers become LA’s team in the limelight. The Lakers are a falling star. The Clippers are a rising one. As far-fetched as it sounds, it’s more reasonable now than ever.