- Senior writer for ESPN.com
- Spent seven years at the Los Angeles Daily News
Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks wasn’t on social media Tuesday night when his starting power forward Blake Griffin started trending after two thunderous dunks over Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III.
But he wasn’t surprised that the former dunk contest champion could still do that.
“He’d be the first to tell you he won’t be jumping over a car anytime soon,” Marks told ESPN. “But I think it’s pretty clear for pretty much anyone just watching him play, he’s feeling good.
“I honestly think it’s almost, day by day, he keeps getting better and better and better.”
When he joined the Nets as a free agent in February, after reaching a buyout agreement with the Detroit Pistons, Griffin hadn’t dunked in a game since Dec. 12, 2019. In 28 games since joining the Nets, he has dunked 19 times. But it’s not just a change in scenery– or championship prospects– that is giving him a lift.
Griffin’s manager, Taylor Griffin, told ESPN that his brother had always targeted March in his return from a second arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus, which hampered him in Detroit’s run to its first playoff appearance in three years during the 2019 season.
When the NBA decided to move up the start of this season to Christmas. Griffin still had three months of rehabilitation work to do in coming back from his second knee surgery in less than nine months.
“It was definitely a hurried-up schedule,” Taylor Griffin said. “And I think we saw that a lot of guys just needed a little bit more time to get all the way back to game shape.
“He had already sat out so much of the previous year, there was no chance he’d sit out [the start of this season]. … His knee was 100% healthy, but there’s a difference in your body being healthy and being ready to play NBA level minutes every night.”
In other words, Griffin wasn’t going to be dunking much. He had already gone through too big of a setback after the first surgery, in April 2019, failed to correct the knee problem. “He didn’t get as clean the first time as we would have hoped,” Taylor Griffin said. “He always felt like there was something still off that whole time he was trying to play last season.
“But it was like night and day after the second procedure [in January 2020].”
Griffin averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 20 games with the Pistons this season before both sides agreed to work on a trade or a buyout agreement. The Pistons were beginning a rebuild under new general manager Troy Weaver, whereas 31-year-old Griffin had just spent a year and a half trying to get his knee right so he could pick up where he’d left off, when the Pistons made the playoffs.
Griffin gave back a significant amount of money as part of his buyout agreement with the Pistons. Once he cleared waivers, Brooklyn quickly became his top choice.
Marks and the Nets took a long view on Griffin’s health when they signed him as a free agent.
“We were going to take our time with him,” Marks said. “Just to make sure we weren’t pushing him too far, too fast, too early and so forth. “We knew what we were getting in terms of veteran and high-IQ player. So it was about being able to maximize what he’s got left, career-wise. And from the first day we got him, we could see, ‘OK, there’s some more there.'”
Griffin has been far more productive, in about 10 fewer minutes per game with the Nets, than he was with the Pistons, shooting 12.7% better from the field and 6.8% better from behind the 3-point arc.
But it’s those dunks that have turned heads on social media.
“We knew he could still dunk like that,” said Griffin’s longtime agent, Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports. “It wasn’t a surprise. It was just a matter of time.”
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