June 06, 2009
There are so many innocent bystanders in this case that you almost hate to go down this route. Now, I could be flip and toss in the clichéd "Almost." for my next single-word paragraph, but I do hate that the Clipper organization has to be viewed through the whiff of stink that Donald Sterling produces.
The reason? We're not referring to the reason behind our enmity for Sterling, you're aware of all that. The most recent addition to that lot is a reminder that he's the sort of guy who decides to change his name to "Sterling," as an adult. Like a 19-year old rapper or professional wrestler.
No, the reason we have to trudge down this path is because the Clippers decided to hold Blake Griffin's usually-private individual workout for the team not only in front of the assembled media (some of which, not yours truly, were bussed in from the Laker practice -- practicing for the Finals -- across town), but whatever season ticket holder wanted to amble down.
The results were as uneasy as you'd expect. The Clippers themselves did a fine job of putting it together. They were friendly and professional and on point and everything that the non-Sterling Clippers (save for, perhaps, a GM or coach or GM/coach or two) have been over the years. These people deserve better.
And Griffin, the likely number one pick working out for the team with the number one pick in the Draft, probably deserved a little better. But we'll get to that in a bit.
The crowd of season ticket holders was probably a hundred strong, scattered along the edges of a two-court practice center, with some splayed out on the floor -- gym class-style -- on the center line dividing the two courts.
A motley crew. Some older men with shoes but without socks, fist-bumping each other. Older women wondering aloud if the NBA Draft (not the viewing party, mind you) was going to be held in this practice facility, or in the Staples Center. Some guy that looked like Mickey Dolenz. A random dude sucking on a lollipop. Matthew Lillard. I can't believe I remember Matthew Lillard's name.
Now, Matthew Lillard doesn't deserve me sniggling at him, but that's what happens when you bring this mess together. And while Griffin didn't exactly get the same treatment, it can't be fun to be missing free throws while the assembled press stares on, bored, and about to entertain themselves with whatever one-liner comes to mind. Nobody was disrespectful, and Griffin couldn't hear any of the quiet press chatter, but it still was far from an ideal environment.
Not a typical environment, either. Workouts like these just don't take place. I was at Yao Ming's(notes) single stateside workout for prospective teams back in 2002, and while the overall crowd was a little larger (no fans, but twice as much press alongside about 20 team representatives and staff), the tone was decidedly different. It just felt ... proper. I don't know how to describe Griffin's turn (nobody was exploiting him, it wasn't inappropriate, really, and it wasn't too embarrassing), but it felt nothing like Yao's workout.
Griffin himself was just what you'd expect. Essentially working 1-on-0 around 6-11 Clippers assistant coach Kim Hughes, he was solid on either block with either hand, going over either shoulder. Plenty of hops to spare, his head was right at the rim on several dunks, while he looked right at 6-9 in shoes.
He'll have issues with his jump shot, which isn't anywhere near Carlos Boozer's(notes) at this point. He falls backwards on his release, and moves as he comes down, which means the ball is always fading away with a poor rotation. It also showed on his free throws, where he missed more than he made. Still, these are simple mechanics that will be taken care of within a year, probably. Jump straight up, land in the same place. Typical big man stuff.
I'm not ready to declare him a borderline All-Star in his second year, a la Kevin Durant(notes), but he'll be right there eventually. This guy is going to be fantastic. With his frame, he reminds me of a Terry Cummings with hops, and that description should excite Clipper fans, even without taking into consideration TC's time in Los Angeles.
Cummings wasn't chosen because of his Clipper affiliation. At his peak, Cummings was a hell of a player. With Griffin's 2009-era body and hops, he'll be even better.
Blake's prospects -- alongside his charming and steadied press conference manner -- still didn't completely wash away the unseemly nature of the whole affair, though. That's just how it goes with this team, and why decades of bad ownership would eventually lead us down a path that produces this result.
Clipper fans are sick of us ripping on the team. They're sick that Jay Leno handed his Clipper joke mantle over to Conan O'Brien earlier this week. They think that we think the team is cheap, which it hasn't been (basketball player-wise) for a while now. They're sick of us being sick of their team.
And I don't blame them. But the reason the Clippers put together a showing like this, completely one-of-its-kind in the annals of NBA history, is because they have so much ground to cover. And it doesn't have to be that way.
This isn't the 1970s. If you want to make season ticket holders happy, put a quality product on the floor. And that doesn't mean spending money at hit players, while skimping in other areas. This means creating a sound organization from the top down, and not being afraid to take a loss or pay someone not to work for you if it means he's not helping your organization.
I'm not telling you anything new. What I can tell you is that Blake Griffin comes as advertised. Plenty of faults, no Tim Duncan(notes), but a solid player and a good guy who will likely grow to be stellar in both of those facets of his life. If nothing else happens, warm yourself to that idea. That's all I'm left with.