The Los Angeles Clippers grabbed an all-important 2-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz on Friday in their first-round playoff series behind an impressive road win. A day later, the team was dealt an all-too-familiar injury blow with Blake Griffin being declared out for the rest of the playoffs due to an injury to the plantar plate of his big toe in his right foot.
Griffin had suffered the injury in the second quarter of Game 3 after a layup in transition with less than four minutes left in the period. Despite Blake Griffin’s departure from that point on, the Clippers were able to secure a big road win behind Chris Paul’s season-high 34 points with 24 coming in the second half along with dishing out 11 assists.
This marked the second consecutive trip to the playoffs in as many years that Blake Griffin saw his season cut short as he suffered a quadriceps injury in Game 4 in the first-round against the Portland Trail Blazers last April that led to the team eventually losing the series in six games.
Blake Griffin had put together another highly productive regular season where he averaged a team-leading 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists in 61 games played. Griffin was able to accomplish this in spite of missing 19 games due to minor surgery on his right knee.
Although the Clippers currently hold the advantage of extending their playoff run past the first round, there is now the dose of reality that Blake Griffin may have played his final game with Los Angeles. Griffin is expected to opt out of the player option worth $21.3 million in the final year of his five-year, $94.5 million deal. In fact, Griffin has until June 28 to officially make the decision to void the last season of his contract.
This would mark the first time in his career that Blake Griffin hits the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. It comes at an opportune time for Griffin to cash in an even more lucrative contract with the NBA making an another significant leap in the team salary cap limit next season to $101 million from $94.1 million for the 2016-17 campaign.
Throughout this entire process, Blake Griffin has remained quite on his free agency plans with his focus set on pushing the Clippers through the playoffs in hopes of capturing the franchise’s first NBA title. In each instance that Griffin has been asked about it, he has stated that he will address it when the time comes subsequently putting more uncertainty as to what he will do in the offseason.
“I’ve loved my time here, absolutely,” Griffin said to Orange Register back in early April. “But my main focus right now is the season. I said this before the season, I’m not doing the whole free agency talk. I’m not talking about any decision I can’t make right now. Like I said my main focus is getting this team right and moving forward and being right heading into the playoffs.”
Despite the lack of chatter on Blake Griffin’s end, he has continued to be linked to his hometown team in the Oklahoma City Thunder whenever free agency talk has up around him. Griffin grew up in the city where he eventually played at the University of Oklahoma for two years before getting selected with the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
The Thunder would be quite an interesting landing spot for Griffin given their need to add another superstar to pair alongside Russell Westbrook with the departure of Kevin Durant last season in free agency to the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook is in the midst of a historic campaign that saw him become just the second player in league history behind Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire regular season. The chance to play alongside Westbrook could be quite intriguing to Blake Griffin in his next chapter of his career.
Although the Clippers have become a playoff regular behind their big three led by Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan, their shortcomings in the postseason have followed them in each appearance. With Paul also expected to hit the free-agent market, it only makes it that much more clear that Los Angeles could be headed toward a huge change in the summer.
In truth, Blake Griffin has a huge decision to make in front of him in the coming months that could have not only a major impact on his own career but also the fate of the Clippers’ future. For now, it’s safe to ponder the possible reality that Griffin may have played his last game in Los Angeles.
[Featured Image by Jae C. Hong/AP]