LOS ANGELES — Back in August, when The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Russell Westbrook's extension, he buried this tidbit about Blake Griffin becoming the next target for the Oklahoma City Thunder:
Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it's a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.
Griffin might not get along perfectly with Paul, but the odds of him fleeing L.A. for OKC are slimmer than ever—just in time for the Clippers' showdown with the Thunder at Staples Center on Wednesday.
According to Woj, the Thunder agreed to rookie-scale extensions with Steven Adams (four years, $100 million) and Victor Oladipo (four years, $84 million) prior to the Oct. 31 deadline. In doing so, OKC essentially locked itself into its current squad for at least another season.
Per Basketball Insiders, the Thunder have upwards of $106 million in guaranteed salaries on their books for 2017-18. That puts them over the projected cap of $103 million before factoring in potential raises for Andre Roberson and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Not that OKC has ever been a big player in free agency, as The Vertical's Bobby Marks noted:
Oklahoma City, which has long built through the draft and via trades, sacrificed potential cap flexibility with Monday's extensions.
Fourteen of the Thunder's 15 players were drafted or obtained in a trade, with Anthony Morrow being the lone free agent.
Still, if a player of Griffin's caliber were so inclined to sign with the Thunder, he'd likely move heaven and earth to make it happen.
So, would Griffin want to return to his Sooner State roots once he (presumably) opts out of his current contract this summer? He's enjoyed the opportunities he's had to play at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"When you go home and play, it's cool because your friends and family are there," he said. "People you grew up with, they're all huge Thunder fans now. That's cool."
While Griffin appreciates the hometown support, it will take more than a familiar round of applause to pry him away from the West Coast. According to several of his Clippers teammates, Griffin doesn't talk much about his home state, save for his support of his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.
"All I know is he had like 100 people in his whole high school. It was very small. That's all I really know about his hometown," Austin Rivers said. "He's pretty quiet about it. He definitely reps his school pretty heavy, I know that."
Meanwhile, Griffin's ties to Southern California grow more binding by the day.
His new production company, Mortal Media—which he formed with Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers—is set to reboot The Rocketeer for Disney. Brynn Cameron, Griffin's longtime girlfriend and an L.A. native herself, is pregnant with his second (her third) child, according to TMZ.
And that's just off the court. On it, things have never been better for Griffin. He's looked healthy and hungry, with an even smoother jump shot, at the outset of the 2016-17 season.
His on-court bond with DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers' All-NBA center, is stronger than ever. Need proof? Rewind to the fourth quarter of L.A.'s Halloween win over the Phoenix Suns, when the Griffin-to-Jordan connection was in its finest form yet.
"Blake's a playmaker," head coach Doc Rivers said. "I think people look at him as a power forward and he's a playmaker. If you allow him to make plays, he will."
It helps, too, that Griffin knows most of his teammates' tendencies like the back of his hand.
"You kind of know what CP's going to do before he's going to do it," he said. "J.J. [Redick], you know where he's going to be, you know what he likes to do. You know where DJ likes to be, where he's going to go, where he likes to catch the ball. It's just being familiar with everybody that makes all of that stuff work so well."
That continuity has been key to the Clippers' 3-0 start and could keep them in contention for the title into May and June. Such success would only make it more difficult for Griffin to walk away.
It's no wonder that the superstar forward—who recently passed Corey Maggette to become No. 4 on the Clippers' all-time scoring list—and the only NBA team he's ever known seem bound to extend their partnership.
As Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler reported in late August: "Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he's not open to going anywhere. Clippers president and head coach Doc Rivers has mirrored that, saying he believes Griffin retires as a Clipper."
Even Griffin's differences with Paul could be rendered moot if the All-Star point guard packs his own bags and leaves L.A. by way of his opt-out in 2017.
But if there's any lesson the NBA has learned in recent years, it's that free agency can be a freaky process. There's no telling what Griffin's frame of mind will look like in July, once he's seen how the Clippers' season ends and whether Paul is inclined to be a part of another one, among a host of other factors.
As of this moment, though, a rough read of the tea leaves points to Griffin remaining one of OKC's toughest opponents, not its next superstar.
Clippers Insider's Notebook
DJ Is A-OK
If there's such a thing as injury amnesia, DeAndre Jordan might've had it.
One night after spraining his right thumb during the Clippers' 88-75 home-opening win over the Utah Jazz, Jordan couldn't seem to recall the setback without a series of reminders. Only after reporters reformulated the question as "How are you feeling?" did it come flooding back to him.
"I feel great," Jordan said. "It was a scary little play for a second. I really want to play basketball. I don't want to miss any games. But my teammates definitely were on me about getting it taken care of and things like that. But I'm fine."
His performance in L.A.'s win over Phoenix said as much. Jordan scored 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, ripped down 11 rebounds and added two assists, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes.
The Houston native has been one of basketball's most reliable players since he left Texas A&M in 2008. He had been the NBA's reigning Iron Man until Jan. 13, when a case of pneumonia ended his games-played streak at 360.
"Last year was my first time in all the years I've been here now playing a game without DJ," Chris Paul said after Jordan hurt his thumb. "Any time I see him like that, I definitely get worried because he's, to me, probably the most durable guy in our league."
Clips Clean Up Their Messes
Through three games, the Clippers ranked 17th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (43.7 percent), but still clock in as a top-10 offensive team. Part of that success comes from their work on the offensive glass.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers turned 15 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points. Opposite the Jazz, they gleaned 13 points from 14 of their misfires. They only nabbed five offensive caroms against the Suns, but scored 13 points off them anyway.
So far, that makes this L.A. squad uncommon among those coached by Rivers. His teams have long prioritized getting back on defense over keeping possessions alive.
"I want to be a better offensive rebounding team, don't get me wrong," Rivers said. "I'd rather not give up points the other way. That, statistically, is a fact. We know that to be true."
With giant athletes like Jordan and Griffin up front, the Clippers could turn out to be a good offensive rebounding team by accident. That certainly wouldn't hurt the team's attempts at stifling its opponents in transition. It would also fit with Rivers' desire for his club to be better on the boards overall.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com.
"That's one of the first things he said to us in our first meeting was rebounding," Griffin said. "I think last year, we didn't do a great job and if you look at our team, you look at the talent that we have and the size and athleticism, it should be a strength for us."
Second Unit Stymies
The bigger surprise for the Clippers may be the way their second unit has defended. According to NBA.com, the five-man lineup of Raymond Felton, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson and Marreese Speights has limited its foes to 76.1 points per 100 possessions—good for a net rating of 26.9 in 33 minutes.
When asked whether he could've predicted a group featuring three guards and little (if any) shot-blocking would defend so well, Rivers answered flatly "no" before elaborating:
"I think playing against our first unit every day helps them a little bit because that unit is so lethal," he said. "I think Mo has been a very good surprise defensively with putting his body in place. I think Austin, as good as he was last year defensively, has taken it up immeasurably. His defense, his pressure, his help, his alertness has been off the charts.
"So now you have those two, and then Raymond is another one. I didn't see it, honestly, but during camp, you start noticing that, wow, we could be pretty good defensively with our second unit. Going in before camp, that was a concern."
And if those second-stringers keep it up, the Clippers might finally have a reliable bench without having to tweak personnel entirely throughout the season.
Trick or Truth
Players across the NBA celebrated Halloween by dressing up for parties and trick-or-treating in costume with their families. But only Paul Pierce had the gumption to wear his getup during an actual game.
Granted, Pierce didn't play against the Suns on Monday—the 39-year-old has yet to suit up this season while recovering from an ankle sprain suffered while warming up for an exhibition game.
Still, kudos to Pierce for spending his night on the sideline in a full Rick James costume.
Fortunately for the Clippers, there were no couches on their bench.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.