Clippers power forward Blake Griffin tries to protect the ball from the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The excitement in Blake Griffin's voice was easy to hear, and it wasn't just because his left knee feels great after the surgery that forced him to miss the Olympics.
Griffin was excited about the deals the Clippers made over the summer, about signing his long-term contract and about their chances to contend for a title, and he's also looking forward to playing the new-look Lakers.
There is joy in Clippers Nation, Griffin concluded, because the Clippers continued to take the steps necessary to remain relevant in the NBA and to change a team culture that was notorious for its shortcomings.
"I came back after surgery and started rehabbing and getting back into it. I've been shooting and lifting [weights] and all that for a while now," Griffin told The Times in telephone interview Friday. "So, I'm pretty much back at 100%, been back at 100% for a little bit. So I'm good."
The Clippers start training camp Oct. 1, which Griffin says is more than enough time for him to train and improve his health and his game.
He was injured July 11 while training with Team USA in Las Vegas, ending his chance to represent his country at the Olympics. Griffin had surgery July 16 to repair torn cartilage in his left knee and it has healed to the point where he is working out.
Fortunately for Griffin and the Clippers, the latest knee injury had nothing to do with the stress fracture of his left patella, and the subsequent surgery, that forced him to miss the 2009-10 season.
"In talking to my doctor, he told me if this was the season and the playoffs were coming up, I would have been out two or three weeks," Griffin said. "We're kind of taking our time with it and really making sure we meet every single area and making sure that my strength is 100% back to where it needs to be.
"But it's been there for two or three weeks now. So, really, I'm just kind of working myself into condition and still getting my basketball work in and getting my lifts in."
During the summer, while the Clippers were busy re-signing Chauncey Billups, and acquiring Lamar Odom from the Dallas Mavericks and landing free agents Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Willie Green, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, Griffin was ecstatic.
The Clippers have now become a "free-agent destination," Griffin said.
"Of course, to be honest, everybody knows the state that the Clippers were in, or have been in, for the last however many years," Griffin said. "I think that shows a lot about where we're at and where we're going, that guys want to play here and that guys want to buy in. You've got a guy like Grant Hill who is at the end of his career and he chose us.
"So, I think we can be very good. I think we can contend in the West and for a championship."
Last season the Clippers made it to the second round of the playoffs after having the best regular-season winning percentage in the franchise's history.
And the newest Clippers said they all came because of the opportunity to play with Griffin and Chris Paul.
Griffin helped the cause by signing a five-year extension in July that could be worth up to $95 million.
"With the moves that the front office made — and now with Gary Sacks, who hopefully steps into that GM role — that made it easy for me and I think this is the place where everybody wants to come," Griffin said.
Griffin continued to speak glowingly about Sacks, the Clippers' director of player personnel, who played a pivotal role in building the team this summer. Sacks remains the top candidate to replace Neil Olshey, who jumped to the Portland Trail Blazers, as the Clippers' general manager.
"I think Gary has a great relationship with all the players and the players like him," Griffin said. "If he is finally named GM, I think that's just the icing on the cake of having a franchise that is complete."
Of course, the Clippers' neighbors at Staples Center also pulled off some big deals this summer, and even Griffin had to notice.
The Lakers acquired center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic — and it sent shock waves throughout the NBA. And this was after the Lakers added Steve Nash.
But that doesn't mean Griffin or the Clippers are backing down from the challenge the Lakers — or any team in the NBA — presents.
"It's great for them," Griffin said about the Lakers landing Howard. "But just like people said when we got 'CP,' they've still got to play — just like we did. It's a great acquisition for them. That makes them even tougher. But I think we got tougher as well."