Blake Griffin's Latest Injury May Finally Send Him in Search of a New NBA Home

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterApril 22, 2017

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin walks across the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Already, the whispers had started, about how Blake Griffin was catching rim on his dunks after they used to be statuesque, powerful slams, with or without the Kia.

Each injury had taken a little of what made Griffin special, the freakish explosiveness to go with size and skill that makes so few prospects no-brainer No. 1 overall picks, as Griffin was in 2009.

His work ethic as a professional in the eight years since has been admirable, bringing meaningful improvement in his shot and handle.

Yet as he slammed that right hand he broke in January 2016 into a chair Friday night in Utah with unbridled frustration—as yet another injury promised to undermine his competitive hopes and reinforce the Los Angeles Clippers' stigma—it was the same old story for Griffin.

It is, according to NBA sources, somewhere between possible and absolute that the surgical procedure to remove loose bodies from Griffin's right knee in December is related to what the Clippers confirmed Saturday is a season-ending plantar plate injury to his right big toe.

As damaging as the injury is to the Clippers' playoff hopes, when greater perspective meshes with the frustration Griffin can't punch away, the question that needs to be answered is whether this person who has made changes to his inner circle and altered his lifestyle this season thinks it's absolutely time for a fresh start.

Because it's just as absolutely not over for him.

Griffin just turned 28, and his skills still haven't fully been tapped in a Clippers system in which Chris Paul's greatness rules everything in Doc Rivers' mind.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Yes, Griffin is being written off as injury-prone now, and not without plenty of evidence. Numerous league sources said Friday night as soon as they heard "out for the remainder of the game with a bruised toe" that this had to be another serious injury—and the final reason not to want to invest a valuable max-salary slot in Griffin, who will be a free agent after the season.

Rest assured, though, someone is going to ante up, because he deserves it and his talent demands it.

Even though the Clippers looked sharper after Griffin exited in the second quarter of Game 3 against the Jazz and later won, it's ludicrous to think Steve Ballmer would want Griffin to walk away when the Clippers are capped out and have no other means of putting championship-level talent next to Paul, who also can opt out of his contract this summer.

Though folks who represent other teams are free to opine Griffin would not be a dependable max-salary superstar, no one holds the power except Griffin.

After he sits out and looks like the weak link as the Clippers try to scrap through this series against Utah or even aim to look respectable against Golden State, people will see the big picture more clearly.

As soon as the season is over, reality will set in: Griffin is still in his prime and could leave the club with nothing in return while being viewed as a hero bringing his fresh start to a new franchise.

If he does leave, the closest thing the Clippers have had to a golden era will end. And even before this injury, those who know Griffin well were not sure how badly he wanted to stay.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Griffin is understood by few. He has his own thoughts on how things should go, though he will listen if he believes you have something to teach him.

Someone with that sort of self-driven mentality likely is more inclined to stay with a single team his entire career, believing he'll figure everything out—especially since Los Angeles offers him opportunities in the entertainment industry he enjoys.

It boils down to whether this last injury is the last straw for Griffin, if he felt when he banged that hand into that chair that he just isn't going to bang his head against this wall anymore.

After all, his Clippers tenure began with an injury, too. He landed on a dunk in his first preseason and suffered a stress fracture in his left kneecap, which didn't heal with rest and rehab and mandated surgery that cost him the whole season.

It's a regular plot line with Griffin, and it might be again. His right foot will be re-evaluated by specialist Richard Ferkel early next week after the Clippers return to Los Angeles.

According to league sources, the pivotal question will be whether Griffin needs surgery—which would sideline him for two to three months—or tries to avoid yet another procedure and have it heal on its own. He'd do the latter with the knowledge he might wait two months and then still need surgery...and be at risk of missing the start of next season.

Perhaps a season with a new team.

Griffin has been determined not to deal with that possibility, dedicating himself to this season. He showed the same kind of commitment last year after another distraction—one of his own making—when he broke his hand punching the Clippers equipment manager in a less-than-dedicated moment of foolishness. After that, Griffin postponed surgery in hopes of playing in the postseason despite being told he'd likely re-tear a quadriceps tendon he'd hurt in his left leg if he did so, according to league sources.

He played, he re-tore it, and he missed out on Olympic gold in the summer because of it.

You can't say the guy hasn't been trying.

But you could just as rightly say it's time for Griffin to try something else.

    

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinDing.

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