Griffin did not come across like a rookie even when he was one. He is 6' 10" and 251 pounds, with what teammates call the strength of a power forward, the speed of a point guard and the mentality of the last man on the bench. When Griffin was a sophomore in high school, playing for the Athletes First AAU team in Oklahoma, his older brother Taylor told him, "The only way you will get playing time and earn respect is by doing the little things." So in his first tournament, Griffin concentrated solely on blocking shots, rebounding and running the floor. "I decided that would be my deal," Griffin says. He would be a grinder, even if he someday became a No. 1 draft choice.
"Blake is going to be a tough matchup for anybody because who else is that big and that strong and that quick?" says Kaman. "The guy is already a monster, and then he comes in here and works harder than anybody else. He doesn't know when to stop." Kaman believes that he and Griffin could immediately form one of the top five power forward--center combinations in the league, reminiscent of—if not better than—the Kaman--Elton Brand duo that led the Clippers to 47 wins and the second round of the playoffs five years ago.
For coach Vinny Del Negro, making the playoffs in consecutive seasons with the Bulls was not enough to save his job. If he can duplicate the feat in Los Angeles, he may be in line for a lifetime contract. His security depends on Griffin, who never once associated his injury with the Clippers' long history of hard luck. He has been brought in to change that pattern and will not allow for the possibility that he is another victim of it. Griffin mentions that Michael Jordan missed 64 games as a rookie and Magic Johnson missed 45, and even though Jordan and Johnson were actually second-year players then, his point is well taken. Sometimes a lost season is just a lost season and nothing more, even for the Clippers.
Griffin feels the culture changing—"You can see the shift," he says, "in the way we work and the way we talk"—but he knows such proclamations have been made many times before. They will be greeted with eye rolls until they are followed by progress. "Nobody wants to play for the team that people always talk about negatively," Griffin says. "I don't want guys to hear all summer that we're never going to make the playoffs. We have to earn respect. The best way to do that is to work for it."