As Blake Griffin took the stage to be cemented as the Clippers cornerstone Wednesday, a video of his highlights played on a monitor over his right shoulder.
At one point, he threw down seven consecutive dunks.
If memory serves, several of those passes came from Chris Paul.
The oop is back, but he has lost his alley, and if Blake Griffin thought jumping over a car was tough, welcome to Remodeling Job City.
“Obviously our team looks different, but I’m extremely excited about the guys we’ve got,” said Griffin at the news conference celebrating his signing a five-year, $175-million contract that makes him the most permanent Clipper ever.
The biggest of those guys is him, and, given that, it’s uncertain if Clippers fans will share his extreme excitement.
Can he stay healthy? Can he stay engaged in the final minutes of games? How will he handle the burden of being the face of a team in transition in a town that doesn’t do so well with transition?
“This was a no-brainer for me,” Griffin said. “The best place for me, the place I want to start and finish my career.”
So they felt compelled to affix the biggest chunk of their payroll for the next five years to a guy who has been healthy for a full season only once in the previous four years and who is still uncertain to be ready for training camp after undergoing toe surgery.
It is now incumbent upon Griffin, 28, to make them look smart. He must stay on the court, finish on the court, find the ball and basket late in the game, make it all work. It’s now his team, his legacy, DeAndre Jordan can do only so much, those two dozen former Houston Rockets can add only so much. This is about Griffin, and it all starts now.
“This is a great day in Clipper history,” said coach Doc Rivers, who can only hope those words will have staying power.
In regaling Griffin, Lawrence Frank, Clippers executive vice president of basketball operations, noted, “Think about, what were the Clippers like before Blake was drafted? Never had a 50-win season. Never had a home playoff series. It’s six straight seasons with nothing but success.”
All true. But the exact same thing could be said about Paul, who was there with Griffin for every step of the last six of Griffin’s seven seasons.
It was pretty clear that Paul ran the show. It was Paul who always wanted the last shot. It was Paul who hit the winning basket in the biggest victory in franchise history, Game 7 against San Antonio in 2015.
After this season’s usual early playoff exit, when it became clear the Clippers would be wise to break up their two potential free agents, it seemed like the Clippers would be inclined to keep Paul.
But Paul wanted to go to Houston, so the Clippers are embracing Griffin, and holding their breath, and selling their fans on something different, which will include nine new players and only five holdovers from the Big Three era.
“Change is not bad, change is good, what we have done is great, but it’s not good enough, and we accept that,” Rivers said of the team’s past. “What we tried to do didn’t work. We have no problem accepting that. It was a great try, it didn’t work. Now we have to pivot and go in another direction.”
There will be more ball movement. There could be more chemistry. Yet few are predicting more wins. There is some feeling that in the deep Western Conference, they could struggle to even make the playoffs.
Griffin will be paid well for his new responsibility, but it will be a difficult one, and he knows it.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked of his team’s prospects. “On paper we have the ability to be dangerous and versatile and give people problems.”
They will certainly be interesting. Patrick Beverly will play defense. Danilo Gallinari will give them offense. Sam Dekker will provide versatility. Milos Teodosic is a magical passer. Lou Williams will come off the bench like Jamal Crawford. Montrezl Harrell can spell Jordan.
“We went out and put together probably the best roster we could,” Griffin said.
But it will only work with him in charge, in focus, in control.
“I do expect my role to change a little bit, but at same time I have plenty of help,” he said.
Say this much for Griffin, he is that rare Clippers star who actually wants to be a Clipper for his entire career. Even though NBA rules dictate that the Clippers could pay him $45 million more in guaranteed money, he still could have been set for life in a place such as Phoenix or Denver, yet he canceled those free-agent meetings to stay home.
“The best thing for me is, ‘I want to be a Clipper,’” Rivers of Griffin’s commitment. “This organization hasn’t had that. The fact that we have that now, that investment is huge for us.”
It’s truly great for the organization that somebody finally wants to stay. Clippers fans can only hope it’s the right somebody.