Clippers forward Blake Griffin, right, dunks over Memphis center Marc… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Blake Griffin managed to acknowledge the past, and the future, in one sweet sweep when he took the microphone and addressed the crowd before the Clippers' regular-season finale.
Griffin, four quarters away from shedding his rookie status, thanked the Staples Center crowd for its support, adding: "It's been a fun year. We can't wait until next year. This is just the beginning."
Then the power forward scored the Clippers' first nine points in the first three minutes against the unmotivated-looking Memphis Grizzlies, leading the Clippers to a 110-103 victory on Wednesday night. They withstood a late Memphis run as Griffin finished with his second career triple-double: 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
And, of course, yet another dazzling dunk-fest.
But back to next year.
Indeed, with the threat of an NBA work stoppage looming, most thoughts are drifting toward next season. When Griffin spoke about next year, it might well be next year, in 2012, before the Clippers play their next regular season game.
Uncertainty seems to be around every corner.
How will a new collective bargaining agreement impact, say, third-year center DeAndre Jordan, who is poised for a significant pay raise after a breakthrough season. Jordan will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Clippers can match any offer coming his way.
In Jordan's favor: The draft is thin at center, and there are only a handful available via free agency. What could work against Jordan is if the current mid-level exception shrinks or goes away in a new CBA, cutting into his list of potential suitors.
Jordan's emergence does not mean center Chris Kaman, an All-Star last season, has played his last game as a Clipper. The Clippers aren't looking to shop Kaman, at least not any time soon, according to those familiar with their thinking.
Kaman, who did not play against Memphis because of an injured knee, missed 50 games, mostly because of a lingering ankle injury. And Eric Gordon played in 56 games, having been out for all but two games in the period from Jan. 22 to March 19 because of an injured wrist.
"You just have to deal with it," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We weren't built this year to have our starting center out 50 games and our starting two guard out 28 games. We didn't have the depth. … In this league, if you are developing, you are usually struggling a little bit."
That was an understatement. The Clippers (32-50) started the season 1-13 and 5-21, and then in their next 52 games, they went 26-26. The kids were thrown into the fray, and then they were watching more often than desired.
"From a development standpoint, I think we could have done a better job with Al-Farouq [Aminu] and [Eric] Bledsoe, at times," said Neil Olshey, the Clippers' vice president of basketball operations.
"We set the table. We learned how to compete, learned how to play for 82 games instead of until the All-Star break. That set a tone of being that much closer to where we need to be."
The erratic season-ender was surprisingly edgy, as the Grizzlies are headed to a first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs. Griffin and Leon Powe got into it a couple of times, exchanging words and Powe was ejected from the game when he received his second technical with 37.5 seconds left in the first half. The Clippers' Craig Smith was also ejected, getting sent off in the third quarter.