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Fatherhood fueled transformation for Clippers' Blake Griffin

Fatherhood fueled transformation for Clippers' Blake Griffin
The Clippers' Blake Griffin has a player option for next season that pays him $21.3 million. He can opt out of that deal when this season is over and become an unrestricted free agent. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On a recent drive to the Clippers' practice facility, Eminem's "Mockingbird" came on the radio, and the lyrics caught the attention of Blake Griffin.

It dawned on Griffin that the rapper was talking about his daughter, Hailie, and was willing to announce to the world his for love her in his music.

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The moment was poignant for Griffin because he's the father of two kids, a 3-year-old son, Ford Wilson Cameron-Griffin, and a 7-month-old daughter, Finley Elaine Griffin.

Griffin smiled as he told the story, acknowledging how there has been this inner peace because of his family and how it arrived simultaneously with the serenity he feels as a highly trained basketball player.

"[It's] like Eminem is saying this to his daughter. I was like, 'Man, that's so cool.' He has that relationship," Griffin said. "It might be controversial to some people.

"Now it's like what kind of example am I leaving or setting for my son and … when my daughter can actually know what's going on? What type of example am I showing her about how she should expect to be treated by men and all those things? Like, that's the biggest thing. I feel like I'm the same person. I like the same stuff, but I spend my time a little differently and I think a little differently."

There has been a calmness with Griffin this season, perhaps it being the natural evolution of turning 28 or maybe having endured so much turbulence.

He doesn't argue with the officials as much anymore. He moves on to the next play faster.

Being at peace has allowed him to play at a premium level this season as the Clippers play the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs Saturday night at Staples Center.

"It's like being comfortable with exactly who you are and what you aren't just as much as who you are," Griffin said. "I think that's where I found my peace. I am what I am. At the end of the day, I know if I'm putting in the work and I'm doing things the right way and I'm trying to be the right type of person, that's all I can ask for. … That's all you can ask for from your friends, from your family."

His transformation began to take shape last season after Griffin reached a low point in his life.

Griffin had punched a now-former Clippers staffer while the team was in Toronto last year in January, breaking his right hand after punching the face of assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

The Clippers suspended Griffin four games and docked him $859,442 in pay.

He felt the scorn of many, a 6-10, 251-pound man fighting with his friend.

That was not the kind of things Griffin had done.

"Just like everything last season made me take a step back and realize and be grateful for the people that I do have in my life," Griffin said. "In a way, you kind of have to go through something like that — not that you don't have to. But … I always try to find a positive in everything. I guess that's the positive I took away from all that stuff."

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For four years as teammates, J.J. Redick has seen Griffin's growth.

"It's just a natural maturation that happens as you get older," Redick said. "When your priorities become your friends and your family, I think that maturation process can happen a lot quicker. But he was way more mature than I was at his age. I just see a different person. He just seems more at peace."

Alvin Gentry, the current New Orleans Pelicans coach, spent the 2013-14 season as the associate head coach of the Clippers, and he marveled at how Griffin grew as a person and basketball player.

"Obviously he's had some life lessons that he's learned from," Gentry said. "And to me, the biggest thing is that when stuff happens like that, do you learn and do you get better? And I think that's what he has done. He's learned from those things and he's a much, much better basketball player and person because of it."

Griffin is back to being a force in the NBA. He had a three-game stretch recently in which he scored more than 30 points in each game.

In the final five regular-season games, he averaged 23.8 points per game, shot 57.5% from the field, 33.3% from three-point range and 90.6% from the free-throw line. He averaged 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

"There's not anything he can't do," Minnesota Coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You can see he plays with a lot of poise. His skill set is unusual for a guy that size."

"He has improved his range when it comes to shooting the three-ball," Phoenix forward Jared Dudley, a former teammate of Griffin, said. "But his post moves, he still does the pound, pound, spin over to his left shoulder for a hook shot. So I think that's where he still has to develop. But overall, I think he has been consistent in these last three or four years."

Another injury took a bit out of Griffin's season.

He missed 18 games after right-knee surgery.

But once he found his groove when he returned, Griffin was dominant in those last 35 games.

He put up 21.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists on average. He shot 50.4% from the field, 36.3% from three-point range and 76.9% from the free-throw line.

"He's shooting the ball better every year," Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said. "He doesn't seem to hunt threes, but when he gets them late-clock, he flicks a large percentage of them in. He's been one of my favorite players to watch because he's just such a unique talent. His personality is captivating, even if he is a bit of a flopper."

Carlisle paused and laughed after his last comment.

But he was curious, like the rest of the NBA, about Griffin's future.

Griffin has a player option for next season that pays him $21.3 million. He can opt out when this season is over and become an unrestricted free agent.

The smart money says Griffin terminates his contract and re-signs with the Clippers for five years in July.

But he's not touching that subject with the playoffs here.

"Everybody knows the situation for our team," he said. "I think the question we got the most this year is there a different sense of urgency knowing that contracts are up in the air this summer.

"But every guy on this team has so much invested in this team and invested in this season that you don't really sit around and think about that. I don't. I'm worried about this right now so it's not something I think about a lot. We all know what the situation is. I know what my situation is, obviously. But it's not something I worry about because I can't control that right now."

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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