LA’s basketball scene? Clippers step into playoffs bridging epochs, facing what might be their final prime opportunity.

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 7: Paul George #13 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers observe the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on February 7, 2024, at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California.

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On Tuesday morning, Blake Griffin, the top selection in the 2009 NBA Draft by the LA Clippers, declared his exit from the NBA after 13 seasons.

While superior talents have graced the franchise’s ranks before, during, and after Griffin’s era, there’s a case to be made that Griffin, who immediately showcased his prowess upon debuting in the 2010-11 season as a Slam Dunk Champion, NBA All-Star, and Rookie of the Year, stands as one of the most pivotal figures in the team’s annals.

“Blake is simply one of the most electrifying players the league has seen in ages, athletically speaking,” remarked Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, who served as an assistant under Doc Rivers during Griffin’s peak in 2013-14. “And his passing ability often goes underrated. He revolutionized play at the four position and later adapted to the small-ball five, even enhancing his three-point shooting. Despite injuries hampering him toward the end, he left an indelible mark.”

But Griffin’s Lob City era with the Clippers never translated into a conference finals berth. The last postseason featuring Griffin and Chris Paul together was in 2017, marked by off-season contract dilemmas. Despite clinching the fourth seed in the Western Conference, Griffin’s season-ending injury in Game 3 against Utah dashed their hopes, culminating in a Game 7 defeat. Meanwhile, Paul opted to join James Harden’s Houston Rockets.

Griffin inked a lucrative multi-year deal with the Clippers in 2017, envisioning a long-term stint. However, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons the following January, as part of a short-term retooling strategy. Two years post-Griffin, the Clippers introduced Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

The Clippers today differ vastly from the franchise Griffin once knew. Amidst ownership changes and organizational shifts, they’re poised to inaugurate the Intuit Dome in Inglewood, California, under the stewardship of Steve Ballmer. However, uncertainties loom over the team’s roster composition.

Leonard’s commitment is certain, having secured a three-year extension, cementing his role as the Clippers’ linchpin. However, his availability remains a concern, given recent injury woes. George’s future is less certain, with ongoing discussions about a potential extension, though nothing definitive.

Unlike his superstar peers Harden and Westbrook, George has yet to grace the NBA Finals. Though not actively shopped, trade interests linger around him, reminiscent of Griffin’s departure.

The addition of Harden last season further amplified the Clippers’ ambitions. While Harden’s postseason track record is laden with brilliance and inconsistencies, his presence adds another dimension to the Clippers’ arsenal.

To reach the conference finals, the Clippers must reaffirm their stature in the West, beginning with a showdown against the Dallas Mavericks. A potential clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder, featuring former Clipper Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, epitomizes the high stakes of this postseason.

As the Clippers embark on this pivotal playoff journey, they do so amid the realization that their championship window, guided by Leonard and George, is narrowing. This postseason represents their final, and perhaps best, opportunity to seize glory.

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