Commentary

Griffin, Gordon form a powerful combo

The Clippers didn't land LeBron, but their two young studs give team puncher's chance

Updated: January 13, 2011, 6:33 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- In the history of news releases, it was not particularly remarkable. In the history of the Clippers, it was downright monumental.

At precisely 10:03 on the night on June 30, the Los Angeles Clippers released a statement from general manager Neil Olshey announcing that they were "honored to be one of the select organizations to have been invited to meet with LeBron James and his team."

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireBlake Griffin secured his 30th double-double of the season Wednesday against Miami.

The Clippers, arguably the most dysfunctional and maligned franchise in the NBA, had been granted a legitimate audience with one of the most coveted free agents in league history.

Though their chances of persuading James to sign with them essentially died on the day in May when owner Donald Sterling made it known he had no interest in selling the franchise to music industry mogul David Geffen, the fact the Clippers even had a chance to land James was an important step toward respectability.

Had he signed with L.A., James would've been a game-changer. The guy who once and for all would change the Clippers from punching bags to punchers. The player who would have made it cool, not cruel, to be a Clipper.

He didn't sign, as we all know now and pretty much expected then too. But we may have been wrong about something.

LeBron could've been that guy.

Blake Griffin still could be.

"It's amazing to me that one player can change things so quickly," said the longest-tenured Clipper, center Chris Kaman. "He always does all the stuff that he doesn't have to do, but he does it because he wants to be the best and I think that pushes other players. We just have a good environment around here now and a lot of that is because of Blake."

The Clippers' 111-105 win over James and the Miami Heat on Wednesday night is the latest high-water mark for a team that's clearly on the rise, having won eight of its last 11 games.

Griffin had 24 points and 14 rebounds for his 30th double-double of the season. And as usual, it was better in person.

Griffin didn't just score 24 points, he shoved, fought and violently slam-dunked them. He didn't just grab 14 rebounds, he arm-wrestled for them.

When the Heat fought their way back to within two points with 5:52 left, it was Griffin who hit a running bank shot to extend the lead back to four.

When Baron Davis was hacked across the head on a drive to the basket and no foul was called, it was Griffin who rushed hockey-style to his defense.

It was the best technical foul he'll ever earn.

If this wasn't already his team, it is now.

"Our season wasn't won or lost with this game," Griffin said humbly after the game. "We still have a lot more games to be played, so I think the key for us is to keep working."

Olshey was only able to watch the game from a hotel room in North Carolina, where he was on a scouting trip.

I happened to talk with him before the game, not after, so I can't tell you just how loud he chortled as the final buzzer sounded.

He might've missed on James, but he was more right than anybody could've dreamed about Griffin and the correct way to build around him.

"Everybody blasted [team president] Andy Roeser and I for having such an overly simplistic presentation when we went in to meet with LeBron," Olshey said.

"But the main crux of the thing was: We don't need a presentation. You [LeBron] know where we play, you've been to the practice facility. Baron Davis is one of your best friends. You've watched Eric Gordon have the games of his life against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We're telling you that Blake is better than any power forward you're going to recruit to play with. And you've never played with an All-Star center like Chris Kaman. That was our pitch."

It was a good pitch. It was also, unfortunately, the only pitch the Clippers could've made.

"It was very hard though after Eric had a down year, Baron struggled with injuries and then Blake didn't play," Olshey said. "It was tough to sell to a guy who was going to put his career and his legacy on the line."

There is a part of you -- and perhaps Olshey -- that wonders if things would've gone differently if last season had been this season. If Griffin hadn't broken his kneecap in the preseason and missed the whole year. If Davis would've been as interested and motivated as he clearly is now. If Gordon would've blossomed a year earlier with such a dynamic teammate as James.

Of course there's the equally vexing question of whether Griffin would've ever become such a monstrous force if he were playing in James' shadow.

We'll never know the answers, of course. Fortunately, reality is becoming just as entertaining.

About a month ago, after a particularly depressing road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Griffin and Gordon called a team meeting. The Clippers had fallen to 5-21. Davis, Kaman and a handful of veterans were out of commission because of injuries. The season was on the verge of slipping away before Christmas again.

"People said what they had to say," Gordon said. "I'll leave it at that."

Whatever that was seems to have worked. They have lost only three times in the 11 games since that meeting.

The Clippers emerged refreshed and renewed with a clear purpose and two very clear leaders in Griffin and Gordon.

So what really went on in that meeting?

"The night before, I was watching 'SportsCenter' and someone introduced us as, 'The Clippers, the worst team in the NBA.' I didn't think that was true," Griffin said, seeming a little angry even in reliving the memory. "None of us thought that was true.

"So we talked about playing for our pride. Playing with pride."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columniist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE NBA HEADLINES