Rumors began to fly around the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday, when it was revealed that Blake Griffin, the team’s five-time All Star, would miss at least four and as many as six weeks with elbow surgery to treat a staph infection.
With the Los Angeles Lakers enduring their second straight abysmal season, the Clippers were the one hope to bring NBA playoff action to Southern California in 2015, but Griffin’s injury throws the Clippers postseason aspirations into turmoil — unless they can replace Griffin, quickly.
With the NBA trade deadline looming on February 19, the Clippers have less than two weeks to find a solution to the absence of the 25-year-old Griffin, whose presence on the team since Los Angeles made him the nation’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009, has turned the once-hopeless franchise into playoff contenders every season.
But as of Sunday, the Clippers occupy the seventh out of eight playoff spots in the Western Conference, with a 33-19 record. While that places Los Angeles four full games ahead of the eighth-place Phoenix Suns, and five-and-a-half over the ninth-place New Orleans Pelicans, a schedule that would be tough even with Griffin in the lineup threatens to eat that lead away in short order.
As noted by the Pro Basketball Talk site, if Griffin misses all six weeks as his elbow heals, he will be out for 19 games. Of those 19, nine come against Western Conference teams that currently occupy playoff spots — including a March 8 contest on the road against the Golden State Warriors who, at 40-9, hold the second-best record in the NBA and sit atop the West.
The Clippers schedule in the time period also includes a game against the Western Conference second-place Memphis Grizzlies, and two games against the Houston Rockets, whose 35-15 mark puts them third in the conference.
How do the Clippers hope to replace Griffin? The truth is, they don’t have much hope.
“The Clippers’ best hope is to hit the buyout market,” wrote Pro Basketball Talk correspondent Sean Highkin.
“Reports have surfaced in recent days that Amar’e Stoudemire could ask the Knicks for a buyout, and he’d be a good short-term replacement for Griffin.”
With the Knicks ensconced firmly in the Eastern Conference basement at a dismal 10-41, and the 32-year-old Stoudemire likely to look to free agency at the end of this season anyway, thanks to his contract buyout, the Clippers could look to put together a package of draft picks that would pry the six-time All-Star away from New York.
But would Stoudemire okay a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers? According to Pro Basketball Talk, only Stoudemire himself knows for sure, because “it depends how much money Stoudemire is willing to give back to be released from his deal, and whether or not he wants to be uprooted in the middle of the season to chase a playoff run somewhere else.”