The Griffin effect

By Matt “Money” Smith
FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET

With all the basketball conversation focused on Blake Griffin lately, the inbox is becoming more and more populated by notes from angry Lakers fans wondering why all the fuss.

Quantitatively speaking they have a good point. By any metric, winning games ought to be weighed far more than any single players statistics or contributions. With the Los Angeles Clippers cruising along at a .381 winning percentage, the third worst in the conference, there is no question Griffin has received an inordinate amount of attention for a team in such a position.

That actually speaks to how good he’s been individually, managing to catch our attention despite his team’s overall performance.

The Clippers 16-26 record wouldn’t even have them qualified for the postseason in the putrid bottom half of the Eastern Conference let alone have a shot at being one of eight in the West. As much as I’d love to see the uber athletic Clips take on the deliberate and veteran savvy Spurs in the first round, there are too many obstacles standing in their way. You can start with the five other teams lined up in front of them for that 8th and final playoff spot that have a better record for one. Then looming like a death knell to their postseason hopes is a brutal 11-game road trip in less than two weeks that starts with four consecutive games against Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and Knicks and finishes with three straight against the Thunder, Hornets and Lakers. No matter how many times I ask the question to the national NBA pundits, there’s no getting around the borderline basketball miracle it would take for this team to overcome that burden created by their 1-13 start.

So with about as close to a 0% chance as you can get of making the playoffs and challenging for a championship, why bother talking about any part of a team with a 16-26 record? Because Griffin has been that exciting, and conversely the Lakers have been that, well by their standards, boring. Kobe Bryant is no longer the slashing, super athlete he once was when the Lakers made their first threepeat run. As much as he looks like, plays like, behaves like and talks like Michael Jordan, even his championships are looking to mirror Jordan’s. Were it not for the wild personality of Dennis Rodman, the second Bulls threepeat team would have to be described as boring as well. Defensively stout, offensively deliberate, highlighted by Jordan hitting a big mid-range jumper just when you thought the Bulls might slip up and lose a game.

Last season the Lakers were exciting thanks to the wild card that was Ron Artest. It was interesting to follow his every move, his postgame quotes, his off-the-court behavior and how it meshed with Phil Jackson who never holds his tongue when it comes to thoughts about a player. Would Artest, who was persona non grata, actually win a championship ring and be celebrated as a player after being the leagues top villain at one point? The Lakers need drama in order to gain our interest. Cruising along at a pace to win 58 games is great come the postseason when they’re a No. 1 or 2 seed and challenging for that third straight championship, but we need something outside of Lamar Odom deciding to have his own reality show to peak our interest and not just provide game capsules following wins or losses.

Bryant is a rock that cannot be distracted from the task at hand, Pau Gasol is as good a player, and as keen an intellect as the team has had since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jackson is going to go down as the best coach in the history of the NBA. But that doesn’t necessarily warrant any attention around game No. 45 of the regular season. Losing to the Mavericks wasn’t all that surprising, but losing to the Mavs with the man who called Jackson “Jeanie Buss’ boy toy” sure is. Think about how much more coverage that comment got than any other basketball related topic the Lakers produced that week. It wasn’t even close. Those are the moments that make covering the Lakers, which at times has been a media circus, different than any other team in sports. And this season they have been few and far between.

You can only talk about Gasol’s increased minutes being a risk that could go bust in the postseason so many times. As interesting as Odom wants to be for his new television career, it’s just not there on a nightly basis. Andrew Bynum is beginning to gain momentum and play some impressive basketball since returning from his injury and Artest has simply become the Lakers official philanthropist.

Turns out it’s good for the Lakers to lay low when it comes to the grind that is the 24-hour media cycle. While the fans are complaining about all the attention the Clippers have been getting, the players are more than happy to share that particular spotlight. With most of them on the other side of 30, there is only one thing that motivates them, and they can’t get their hands on it until June.