PLAYA VISTA, California -- In his first public appearance since signing a five-year, $173 million contract, LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin said returning to the team that drafted him first overall in 2009 was a "no-brainer."
"Obviously this has been my home since I was drafted, and a lot went into this decision for me," Griffin said. "Not only what was best for me and my family, but just the quality of people and work that we have here. That goes from owners all the way down to the coaching staff to the roster to everything just day-to-day. I think with [Clippers owner] Steve Ballmer and [president of basketball operations and head coach] Doc [Rivers] and [executive vice president of basketball operations] Lawrence [Frank], all the way down, in the end I realized this is a no-brainer for me. This is the best place for me. This is a place where I want to start and finish my career."
Griffin entered unrestricted free agency this summer for the first time in his career. Although he scheduled meetings with the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets, he ultimately canceled them after sitting down with the Clippers' brass and teammates at Staples Center on June 30. Griffin was regaled with a presentation that positioned him as the lifeblood of the franchise, and was extended the maximum offer, which he accepted.
"Our goals haven't changed, and the fact that we brought Blake back is a big day for us," Rivers said. "But the messaging for me, more importantly than anything, is, 'I want to be a Clipper.' That is one of the things, when we all came here, we want that. This organization hasn't had that. The fact that we have that now -- that messaging is huge for us."
A woebegone franchise for much of its 33 years in Los Angeles with little success and few amenities to sell NBA free agents, the Clippers longed for a homegrown talent they could groom into a superstar to compete in a market dominated by the storied Los Angeles Lakers. When they landed the first overall pick in 2009, the Clippers snatched Griffin out of Oklahoma and immediately focused their team-building and marketing campaign around him.
Griffin, who carries into his eighth campaign a career average of 21.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists on a true shooting percentage of 56.2, has evolved from a young, high-octane finisher who plays above the rim into a multifaceted power forward. The five-time Western Conference All-Star has developed a refined passing game and a expanding shooting range. Since returning on Feb. 1 from arthroscopic surgery, Griffin shot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc on 2.7 attempts per game.
The Clippers team Griffin will lead upon his return will look significantly different in 2017-18. A roster notable for its continuity lost its starting backcourt of Chris Paul, who was traded to the Houston Rockets, and J.J. Redick, who defected to the Philadelphia 76ers. In addition, starting small forward Luc Mbah a Moute and sixth man Jamal Crawford will not return this fall.
By coming to a decision before the official free-agency period, the Clippers were able to fortify their roster. They expect to feature nine new players when they open the season.
"Blake announcing so early allowed us to do more work," Rivers said. "I thought that was very important. I think that was big for Blake. He knew, if he was coming back, he wanted to tell us so we could go out and get the other guys, and tell the other guys this is who's coming back. A lot of players don't do that. I thought that was huge for us, and it was a big thing for Blake as well."
The composition of the roster presents a new challenge for Griffin, who shared the primary scoring and playmaking roles with Paul for the past six seasons and will need to assume a greater burden. Among his new supporting cast are versatile forward Danilo Gallinari, defensive-minded point guard Patrick Beverley, European star Milos Teodosic, and shooting specialist Lou Williams.
"As far as expectations, I don't know," Griffin said of the team's aspirations in the 2017-18 season. "The size and speed on this team is exciting. I think playing in transition, getting out, keeping the ball moving, playing free is something we're looking forward to. I think we're well equipped."
It is not certain that Griffin will suit up for the Clippers on opening night in mid-October. Griffin suffered a plantar plate injury to his right big toe in Game 3 of the Clippers' first-round playoff series against Utah in April. He is undergoing an aggressive rehab program that includes physical therapy, lower-body work and mobility exercises.
"I've met with probably five different foot specialists before surgery, and everybody's conclusion was that training camp was a very realistic possibility," Griffin said. "So I expect to be ready to go by training camp. Within the next few weeks here I'll be able to go on the court and ramp up things there. It's been nice to be on court and do ballhandling and free throws and stuff like that, but [I'm] just taking it week by week really."