Blake Griffin is a man of many talents. The high-flying forward for the Los Angeles Clippers can leap tall buildings in a single bound, is superb at posing for posters, has a feathery-soft touch in Jenga and is always available to lend a helping hand...for a price.
Oh, and, as it happens, he's an expert craftsman of deli sandwiches. Griffin showed off those skills during a recent "Subprize Party" at a Subway in West L.A. to celebrate the restaurant chain's 47th birthday.
Though, by his own admission, Griffin could've just as easily spent the afternoon out on the court, perfecting his dunks (and, perhaps, his jump shot), if he weren't so busy building hogies with Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin.
"If camp started tomorrow, I’d be ready to go," Griffin said.
That's certainly good news for Clippers fans, who got a scare when Griffin re-injured his left knee while in training camp with Team USA and had to withdraw from the 2012 London Olympics as a result. “I was really looking forward to it, but it was beyond my control and everything happens for a reason," he said of bowing out of the Summer Games.
Luckily, the injury itself wasn't nearly as severe as the broken left patella he suffered prior to what should've been his rookie season in 2009. "The surgery wasn’t one of those things where it really took a long time. It’s just kind of a matter of getting strength back. We really took our time with it. I probably could’ve been back even earlier."
Nonetheless, Griffin has had plenty of time to work on his game, most notably his shooting stroke. Blake came under fire for his shot after converting 52.1 percent of his free throws and 39 percent of his attempts from more than three feet beyond the rim last season. "I’m just trying to become a great player. I’ve been working on my shot, working on free throws. Those are two things that I was able to work on a lot even if it was stationary.”
The Clippers could certainly use a sharper-shooting Griffin this time around. He's a liability late in games, with opponents opting to send him to the free-throw line for a nearly-guaranteed miss or two.
Hence, Chris Paul became Captain Clutch for L.A. upon arrival. Griffin is confident Paul will be ready for the start of the 2012-13 season after undergoing surgery on his right thumb. On the other hand, his expectations for Chauncey Billups—who's still recovering from a torn left Achilles' tendon—remain tempered.
"He looks great," Griffin said of Billups. "He’s been in, working out. I’ve seen him the past couple days and he looks really good. He looks like he’s ahead of schedule.
"But, at the same time, it’s not worth it to rush it for him, just because we do have guys who can fill that void until he’s 100-percent healthy."
The Clippers should be fine, with or without a healthy Mr. Big Shot to start the season. The additions of Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford solidified L.A.'s roster with versatility and veteran leadership.
More importantly, those signings announced the Clips' arrival as an attractive landing spot for basketball's unemployed, at least in Blake's mind. "It’s been great to see the Clippers become a destination for free agents in the offseason. It’s exciting. It says a lot about our program and the direction we’re going, but by no means have we accomplished anything yet. We’ve just kind of taken a step in the right direction. We still have to keep going that way and accomplishing more and more goals."
Gary Sacks, the Clippers' director of player personnel and the man behind this summer's upgrades, has Griffin's endorsement to fill the vacancy at general manager left behind by Neil Olshey. "He’s put in his time. He’s been with the Clippers for a long time. You see the job he did stepping in for Neil [Olshey] when he left and the job he did with the program. All the players love him, so he’s definitely got the players’ vote for GM, so we’ll see what happens."
Thanks to Sacks' maneuvering, expectations will be even weightier next season among Clipper Nation than they already would've been after Blake, CP3 and company stunned the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games during the opening round of the 2012 playoffs. The benefit of a full training camp and practice schedule should prove vital to the Clips as they attempt to weave all of their new pieces and returnees into a cohesive unit.
"Last year, everybody knows the mad scramble it was in the middle of training camp, getting all those new guys during a short training camp and condensed season and all that. So to have guys we’re familiar with coming back and kind of being the core group, I think it’s huge for us but, like I said, we still have a lot of work to do."
Griffin didn't exactly "McKayla Maroney" the Lakers' upgrades, but wasn't overly concerned with the rivals' new arrivals, either. "It’s great," he said. "It’s great for them. It’s great for L.A. It’s great for basketball. It’s going to bring a lot of excitement, but they still have to play just like everybody else."
An attitude of this sort is a new phenomenon for the Clippers, who've come a long way—from being the Lakers' runty little brothers to legitimate contenders in the West—in such a short span of time.
Griffin has been at the heart of that transformation. The Clippers had long struggled through stormy seas without a bona fide superstar around whom to build until they stumbled upon the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Fans can thank Griffin for being a (if not the) catalyst behind L.A.'s rapid rise and team owner Donald Sterling's subsequent loosening of his notoriously-tight purse strings. Blake, though, understands full well that he was but one piece in that puzzle, even if he won't cop to his individual importance to the project.
"Eric Gordon was a huge part of that," Griffin added. "DeAndre Jordan has really come into his own. Baron Davis, when he was here, helped out with that. Obviously, when we got Chris and then Chauncey and then Caron [Butler], things just fell into place.
"I think people are starting to see the potential here. It’s great to be a part of that, but by no means did I have any bigger part than anyone else. It really was a group effort, from the front office all the way down to the personnel."
That collective effort has the Clips on the precipice of bigger and better things heading into the 2012-13 season. They already established a new team record last year by winning 60.6 percent of their games during the lockout-shortened season.
This time around, Blake and his buddies will look to become the first squad in franchise history (dating back to its days as the Buffalo Braves and the San Diego Clippers) to win multiple playoff series in a single postseason.
But Blake Griffin didn't sign a five-year, $95 million extension this summer to stay with the Clips just so he could dunk his way through a few minor playoff triumphs in L.A. He has his sights set on some loftier achievements before his next contract comes due in 2018.
"Hopefully, some championships," Griffin said. "That’s the plan."
And if that doesn't work out, there's always a gig at Subway to fall back on, so long as Griffin can still make a mean turkey sandwich by then.
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