T-Time: Trade of Griffin signals end of era

Trevor Denton | Daily Trojan

It was a shocker.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Clippers traded ninth-year forward Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for elite defender Avery Bradley, forward Tobias Harris and a first-round draft pick, among other assets.

The move indicates the Clippers are serious about cleaning house and starting fresh. It also concluded the most interesting, controversial and successful era in franchise history.

When the Clippers drafted Griffin with the number one overall pick in 2009, the team remained a laughingstock, a true cellar-dweller of the NBA. Before Griffin, the Clippers had made it to the post-season on just three occasions since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. Even after their recent string of successes, the team still holds the second-worst all-time winning percentage among active NBA teams (.394).

Griffin didn’t immediately reverse the Clippers’ fortune. In the build-up to his highly anticipated rookie season, he injured his kneecap in a pre-season game and did not suit up for the rest of the year. He appeared to be yet another highly touted Clippers’ draft pick turned bust, right alongside Antonio McDyess (No. 2 overall in ’95), Michael Olowokandi (No. 1 overall in ’98) and Darius Miles (No. 2 overall in ’00). And believe me, that list could have been much longer.

But the narrative doesn’t end there, as Griffin came back with a fury in year two. In 2010, he started all 82 games, scored 22.5 points per game, won Rookie of the Year honors and lit the team’s fan base on fire with ferocious dunk after dunk (he won the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, leaping over a Kia in one round).

The Clippers won 32 games in Griffin’s first full year — its highest total since the 2006 season. Suddenly, a downtrodden organization found its foundation atop his massive shoulders.

New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul joined L.A. via trade in 2011, transforming the team into playoff contenders. With the development of center DeAndre Jordan and the acquisition of sharpshooter J.J. Redick in 2013, the team became elite. “Lob City” was officially open for business.

Los Angeles has made the Playoffs in each of the past six years, nearly doubling the franchise’s all-time appearances since Griffin got drafted. The Clippers’ winning percentage since 2010 (.604) is nearly 25 percent higher than its all-time number.

Griffin averaged 21.6 points during his career as a Clipper. He exits with the second-most points in Clippers’ franchise history, fourth-most rebounds, and fifth-most assists. At age 28, he’s already the greatest Clipper of all time, with Paul as a close second.

His departure signals the end of the Clippers’ golden age: A time when Los Angeles’ preeminent basketball team wasn’t outfitted in purple and gold.

But the Clippers’ Griffin-era was also far from perfect. At times, the team seemed incapable of handling success, self-destructing just as often as they dazzled.

There was the Donald Sterling scandal in 2014, in which the owner was recorded making horrific, racist comments. Sterling’s actions lost the team numerous sponsors, hurt its public image and alienated players in the middle of a playoff run. They were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semi-Finals that season.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver worked his best to rectify the situation, fining Sterling $2.5 million and forcing him to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. But the Clippers’ off-court issues persisted.

In January 2016, Griffin punched one of the team’s equipment managers in Toronto and broke his hand. It was an ugly incident, costing him time on the court due to the injury and a suspension for his actions. Griffin’s last few years as a Clipper were marred by injuries, self-inflicted or otherwise. He missed 83 games from the 2014-15 to 2016-17 seasons.

Locker room infighting, paired with frustration over lack of post-season success, culminated in the Clippers’ trading of Paul to the Houston Rockets this off-season. The team attempted to maintain some continuity and avoid rebuilding by inking Griffin to a five-year, $173 million mega-deal in June.

But L.A. failed to stay relevant in the Western Conference this year. The team currently sits at ninth place in the standings — not good enough to contend for championships but not bad enough to receive a lottery pick.

So they decided to start anew and send Griffin, the franchise’s cornerstone for a decade, to Detroit. The move makes sense in some respects, but it will likely be a while before the Clippers are relevant again. The team’s reign over L.A. has concluded just as quickly and mysteriously as it began.

For all of Griffin’s successes with the Clippers, he failed to make it past the second round of the Playoffs. His tenure will be defined equally by how much he accomplished and how much he failed to accomplish.

On Monday, “Lob City” officially closed its doors and Los Angeles’ basketball scene will never be the same.

Here are a couple of things I enjoyed in sports this week:

-UCF’s Shaquem Griffin earns an invite to the NFL Combine: I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Blake Griffin, but now it’s time to shift attention to someone who shares his namesake. Shaquem Griffin has been one of college football’s most inspirational figures over the past couple of years. At age 4, he had his left hand amputated as a result of amniotic band syndrome, but that didn’t stop him from earning a Division I scholarship, and eventually winning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. On Tuesday, Griffin came closer to another milestone: making it in the NFL. After a stellar week at the Senior Bowl, he received an invite to the Combine where 32 teams will get to see what the star linebacker can do.

-JuJu’s antics: Former USC receiver-turned-NFL standout JuJu Smith-Schuster is also one of the best social media follows in all of sports (not exactly a ground breaking take, I know). He tweeted out another gem on Tuesday, posting a picture with a fan wearing a Tom Brady jersey — and he was subtly giving said fan the finger. In that moment, Smith-Schuster represented every sports fan outside of Boston.

Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs Wednesdays.