Blake Griffin, Number One Draft Pick’s Season is Over
Griffin will have surgery on his broken left kneecap, keeping the No. 1 draft pick out for at least four more months, the eternally star-crossed Clippers announced in a statement Wednesday.
Griffin hasn’t played a regular-season game yet for the Clippers after injuring his kneecap in their final preseason game Oct. 23, wincing in pain as he landed after a dunk. After resting the stress fracture for several weeks, the former Oklahoma star recently increased his workload in rehabilitation by running on a treadmill.
But the power forward recently developed pain in his knee while jumping in a pool, and an examination Tuesday revealed his recovery wasn’t progressing properly.
“It’s a little disappointing, because he brings so much to the table,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said on a conference call. “As a group, we’re coming together better all the time, and adding that talent to our lineup was something we were looking forward to.”
After a loss in Memphis on Tuesday, the Clippers will play at New Orleans on Wednesday night before returning to Los Angeles for a road game against the Lakers on Friday. Dunleavy hadn’t spoken to his team since learning Griffin won’t be back until next season.
“I think the reaction is going to be one of disappointment, but he hasn’t been here all year,” Dunleavy said. “We’ve just got to move forward and do what we were planning on doing anyway — making the playoffs.”
The NBA said Griffin will retain his rookie of the year eligibility for the 2010-11 season because he did not appear in any regular-season games. Greg Oden of Portland had a similar situation when he was eligible for rookie of the year voting in 2008-09 after injuries forced the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft to sit out the entire ’07-08 season.
Being the top pick hasn’t been such an honor in recent NBA drafts. Griffin is the second No. 1 selection in the past three years to miss his entire first season with an injury.
Oden, the Ohio State center chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, had microfracture surgery on his right knee three months after the draft. Last month, Oden also broke his left kneecap and was lost for the rest of this season.
Griffin was the consensus college player of the year with 22.7 points and an NCAA-best 14.4 rebounds per game last season for the Sooners, and the Clippers eagerly chose him in last June’s draft.
Griffin averaged 13.7 points and 8.1 rebounds during the preseason, and Dunleavy and his new teammates all expected him to be a major part of their comeback season. Instead, Griffin has never been fully healthy in Los Angeles, even straining his right shoulder during summer league play in Las Vegas.
“We just got to look forward, not look back, and move on and hopefully he’s healthy for next year,” said Clippers center Chris Kaman. “He’s a great player and a great guy and he’s got a lot of potential. It’s frustrating, but what do you do, you know?
“Any time someone gets hurt, you don’t control those things. Those things happen and you try to do the best you can and live with it. He looked really solid in preseason and unfortunately the injury, and he’s just kind of stuck behind the 8-ball.”
The pool exercises were part of the last hurdles to be cleared before Griffin could rejoin the Clippers in practice. He has been a constant presence at Clippers games and in film sessions during his injury.
“Blake learned a lot off the court [during his injury],” Dunleavy said. “He’s been very much in tune with everything we’re doing, and he’s just going to continue in that mode. I think he’ll come back next season more prepared.”
Griffin’s woes sadly can’t be surprising to fans of a team with just two winning seasons in the last 30 years and just one playoff series victory since moving to town in 1984.
The Clippers also have a long history of disappointing draft picks, including a pair of No. 1 overall choices that didn’t dazzle.
Danny Manning played just 26 games in his rookie season in 1988-89 after tearing his knee ligament and undergoing surgery, though he eventually became an All-Star before fleeing town. Michael Olowokandi, the top pick in 1998, played only 45 games in his rookie season, and he wasn’t much help even when healthy during five underachieving seasons.
Dunleavy also said leading scorer Chris Kaman wouldn’t play against New Orleans. Kaman, averaging 20.4 points and 9.4 rebounds, had an MRI exam after apparently aggravating his sore lower back during warm-ups in Memphis.