Over the last handful of summers, the Phoenix Suns have been rumored to have interest in a handful of prize free agents but have been unable to land them.
So, when news came out Thursday that they were going to visit with Blake Griffin this weekend when the free agency period opens, it was a big deal.
A five-time All-Star, the 28-year-old forward opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers to become a free agent, and not long ago expressed an affinity for Phoenix and what the Valley has to offer.
With that in mind the Suns, who are flush with cap space, would seem to have a legitimate shot at landing the No. 1 pick from the 2009 NBA Draft.
A guest of Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station Friday, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said she all along has thought the Clippers would keep their star, but if they decide not to offer him a maximum contract, it’s possible he could find a new home.
“He might like [Phoenix], but I think the only way he goes is if the Clippers don’t give him that five-year max and he’s either offended by that or turned off by the idea of remaining with the Clippers right now, doesn’t see a path forward to winning,” she said.
The Clippers can offer Griffin a five-year contract worth roughly $175 million, while the most the Suns or any other club can present is a four-year deal for $130 million.
It’s an interesting situation for sure.
Though one of the more dynamic players in the game, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Griffin has played in 80 or more games just three times in seven tries, and suffered a toe injury that limited him to 61 games last season and will likely cause him to miss the early stages of the 2017-18 season.
So while his statistics are good — last season he averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and has career marks of 21.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists — there are legitimate concerns about whether or not he is a player who is worth the kind of money he is likely to seek.
With Chris Paul now in Houston and a little turmoil arising in Los Angeles, a team like the Suns, who won 24 games last season but have a good amount of intriguing young talent, could be an attractive option.
Shelbourne believes Griffin, who does not have the reputation for being a leader and a willing first-option, only took a backseat in Los Angeles when Paul arrived and could absolutely step up if necessary.
“I don’t think you can say he doesn’t want to be ‘the man,’ I think that he didn’t have a choice,” she said.
With that in mind, Shelbourne said the idea that Griffin is not necessarily a team-first player or someone who wants to win is not accurate.
“I think the Blake Griffin I knew as a rookie, first, second-year player, is still in there,” she said. “Blake was this guy who worked incredibly hard — he’s almost too hard on himself — which I think is where you see some of the bad body language sometimes, it’s often times directed inward as opposed to outward, and people interpret that as scowling. He’s really just too hard on himself.”
Griffin’s work ethic is evident by how he has refined his game over the course of his career, improving as a shooter while also becoming a better playmaker. He has also cut down on his fouling.
“He’d always beat everybody into the training facility every morning, like, he was determined to be great and he was determined to push himself to that next level,” she added. “You want to say he clashed with Chris, it’s not so much they clashed, it’s just Chris is a huge, gigantic personality and doesn’t really tolerate or doesn’t really accept it when you don’t do exactly what he wants you to do.
“And Blake has this side of him that’s very passive-aggressive and non-confrontational, so when things get uncomfortable his tendency is to retreat.”
Shelbourne noted that does not solve anything, and instead leads to tensions boiling just beneath the surface, and while there were times when he and Paul and the team were on good terms, the opposite also held true.
“So when you say who is he, what does he want? I think when Chris left, [Blake] probably still processing what that means,” she said. “I talked to somebody pretty close to him and I think he’s got to figure out what that means and how that feels.
“He went into free agency thinking one thing but now with Chris gone, woah, really deep existential question about what you are and who you are again.”
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