Few Certainties for Clippers Beyond Blake Griffin's Return
The Clippers rookie didn't see the stress fracture in his left knee coming, back when he was sidelined just one day before his much-anticipated pro debut. The top overall pick out of Oklahoma was caught off guard once again on Jan. 13, when he learned that surgery would be necessary and his inaugural season would be lost entirely.
But as Griffin sat courtside at Staples Center before Wednesday's regular season finale against the Lakers, the sneak attack courtesy of Baron Davis prompted the biggest of smiles from the embattled 21-year-old. Davis attempted to swipe a ball from Griffin, whose turnover resulted in a playful exercise with his teammate that was one part wrestling and another hot potato.
You'd never know this season had been so hard.
"It's obviously been very disappointing, unfortunate, but my rookie year starts next year," Griffin told FanHouse. "I've had an entire year to watch up close, watch in person, and see what it takes to compete night in and night out. I got to learn from guys on our team and guys on other teams."
And soon enough, they'll get to watch him.
Griffin is on track to return next season, but there is no specific timetable for his return other than the four-to-six-month window given after his surgery. He has yet to be cleared for basketball activity, but he's running on an alter-G treadmill that decreases the body-weight load assumed. Griffin is currently running at 85 percent of his 251-pound frame.
"We started at 50 (percent), and it's been a gradual progression over I don't know how many weeks," Griffin said. "I do (one percentage) for a little bit, make sure I'm good there and move it up. I'm doing really well as far as how I'm recovering, and there's obviously no rush. ... I'm taking it slowly, taking my time and making sure every step of the way I'm good with what I'm doing."
While Griffin is reportedly being considered for Team USA, he said his main focus will remain his first Clippers season. He's unsure if he'll play at the Las Vegas summer league in July.
"It's a matter of whether they want me to or not," Griffin said. "Summer league's not the kind of thing where you say, 'Oh, you played summer league so you're ready.' My main priority is being able to work out all summer, to be prepared for next season and work on (my game)."
Yet much has changed from the time of his injury to now. Mike Dunleavy was relieved as coach and general manager, and interim coach Kim Hughes is not expected to be back. And while Neil Olshey assumed the reigns as general manager, he may be on his way out as well.
Two league sources said he is a top candidate to land in Denver's front office before next season. Olshey, who has one more year left on his contract, has close ties to the Kroenke family that owns the Nuggets. According to one of the sources, Denver vice president Mark Warkentien, whose contract expires in August, could be on the outs in this scenario in part because of his reported desire to head for Portland.
Nuggets vice president of player personnel Rex Chapman has a contract expiring in August as well. Even if Olshey remains with the Clippers, sources close to the team say team president Andy Roeser is heading the coaching search and is expected to become much more involved in basketball operations.
On the coaching front, ESPN analyst Mark Jackson and Dallas assistant Dwane Casey are still believed to be candidates. And while a source close to former New Jersey and New Orleans coach Byron Scott has said he has serious hesitations about the prospect of entering Clipper-land, a potential obstacle may have been lifted with the revelation that Baron Davis would be open to a reunion. The two clashed frequently while together with the Hornets but have since made amends.
Griffin spoke as if the notion of a new coach was already a certainty. Yet while the puzzle pieces shift or settle around him over the summer, he simply can't wait for his long-awaited return.
"I'm just excited to be able to start [to] work out, to hit it full throttle and be ready for next year," he said. "I'm lifting weights, doing lower body work, upper body, getting my strength back into my leg. I obviously lost size in my legs as far as sitting out after the surgery. As far as a timeline, I'm meeting with my doctor every week and he's giving me different tests.
"I was brought here like we all were just to play basketball, and I'm going to make the best out of any situation that I'm put in. As far as all that (coaching and front-office uncertainty) goes, it's not in my hands so it's not something I'm going to worry about. When the time comes, I'll get to know our new coach, our new staff and try to be as comfortable with him as possible."
He'll be the most comfortable, of course, when he finally returns to the court.
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