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Blake Griffin at center of Clippers' Great debate

Times online poll put rookie ahead of Elton Brand as unofficial greatest L.A. Clipper, a tribute to Griffin's eye-opening talents when compared to Brand's getting team to verge of conference finals.

January 23, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin soars to the basket against Nuggets big men Melvyn Ely and Renaldo Balkman earlier this season.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin soars to the basket against Nuggets big… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Forty-three games vs. seven seasons.

The loosely fitting title of Greatest Player in Los Angeles Clippers History, more or less, comes down to rookie power forward Blake Griffin or veteran power forward Elton Brand, who was Mr. Clipper before leaving for Philadelphia in 2008.

That Brand's long body of work in Los Angeles could even be threatened by Griffin's half-a-season of NBA production serves both as a tribute to the kid's eye-opening, spectacular talents and a source of contention among those who find it wildly forward.

Last week, The Times posted a poll question: Is Blake Griffin the greatest player in L.A. Clippers history? Only the Los Angeles era qualified, no reaching back into the San Diego archives or dusting off the Buffalo Braves' records.

To date, Griffin has 295, or 43.45%, of the votes, more than twice the votes as the second-place finisher Danny Manning (121 votes, or 17.8%). Brand has 105 votes, or 15.4%. Granted, the sample was a small slice of fan representation — 680 votes in all to date — and certainly favors the here-and-now and the rapidly increasing buzz of all-things Griffin.

Also receiving measures of consideration were Michael Cage, Marques Johnson, Ron Harper, Eric Piatkowski and Loy Vaught.

Griffin teammate Jarron Collins, a local who grew up going to Clippers games, all but scoffed at the question, rejecting it as rather hasty. He is a major Griffin fan, but …

"I mean, seriously? It's a little premature," Collins said last week just before his second 10-day contract with the team expired. "He is a very talented player, obviously. The path that he is on — the walking double-double — he's on that path to being a perennial All-Star and those type of things.

"But let's not put the cart in front of the horse quite yet. It's a long ways. With his work ethic, he'll strive to get those goals and those accolades and those things that come with the amount of success and productivity.

"To label him the best Clipper ever is a little premature."

Point(s) taken.

Clipper broadcasting legend Ralph Lawler, in his 32nd season as the team's play-by-play man, gives the nod to Brand but noted that Griffin was closing the gap fast. He spoke a couple hours before Griffin hit a clutch three-point shot in the closing stretch and nearly pulled off the first triple-double of his fledgling career, coming within two assists of doing so, against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.

Brand, after all, got the Clippers to the brink of the Western Conference finals, in 2006, serving as the team's high mark. Body of work and quality time served counts too, obviously.

"Blake has to do some of that before you can really put that in cement," Lawler said. "If he's not yet, he's right on the verge of being [the best Clipper ever] and he will be very, very soon. He's just extraordinary.

"I thought he'd average 18 [points] and 10 [rebounds], which is positively rookie-of-the-year type material. I didn't think he would score as much as he has. I never thought he'd have a 40-point game, much less two of them."

Griffin scored 47 points against the Indiana Pacers last week, an NBA high this season. His streak of consecutive double-double games ended at 27 games Wednesday against Minnesota and he has 35 double-doubles, overall, second only behind the Timberwolves' Kevin Love.

He is averaging 22.8 points and 12.9 rebounds, and he had a career-high eight assists Saturday night. Griffin has had five other games with seven assists.

"He's better offensively that I thought he'd be. We knew we'd get all the slam dunks and stuff, but the other night when he scored 47, by my count he made eight of 10 jump shots and you didn't cringe when he goes up to the [free-throw] line anymore," Lawler said.

"We're just seeing the tip of his iceberg. I just think he's going to be a major, major superstar. And down the road, if not now, surely the best player ever to wear the Clipper uniform and he'll be mentioned with some of the great players ever to play in Los Angeles."

Lawler explained why he puts Brand at the top of the list.

"Because Elton's body of work covered seven years and covered that one great year where he was so instrumental, a whisker away from being in the conference finals," he said. "It wouldn't be fair to him to take that away from him at this point.

He also thought Manning ("similar excitement being the No. 1 pick") and Derek Smith ("abbreviated stint") belonged in the conversation, and included Sam Cassell, based on the excellence of the 2005-06 season.

Lawler's partner, color commentator Michael Smith, goes back 13 years covering the team and said Brand's performance in 2005-06 was the best he had seen in his tenure.

"In some ways what Blake is doing with this team is even more remarkable than that," Smith said. "Elton was established and had a helper in every game in Sam Cassell, who set him up and Mike Dunleavy, the coach, designed the whole system around him.

"I don't think that's the case right now. Not only is he statistically remarkable, the stats only tell you half the story. It's what you see visually in a game and on film that completes the story. I do get the opportunity to crunch the numbers and find out where Blake's rookie numbers to this point compare with some of the greats.

"They're off the charts."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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