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  • Joe Makar

Blake Griffin and the Nets Culture Continuity

There is never a dull moment with the Brooklyn Nets this season, even during the All-Star break when the team was resting up for the second half of their most significant season in franchise history. The Nets made a splash in the buyout market by signing six-time All-Star Blake Griffin to a deal for the remainder of the season.

Griffin was made available when he reached a buyout with his former team, the Detroit Pistons. Griffin was free to sign with his team of choice, and there were certainly plenty of interested suitors. The former first overall pick in 2009 is not the same highflyer and highlight reel he once was, but he still has plenty of gas left in the tank and can be a key player for the Nets the rest of the way.

So what can we realistically expect from Griffin entering his next chapter in Brooklyn? Fans and media seem to be completely divided regarding how they currently view him. When he made his NBA debut in 2010, Griffin was known for his electrifying dunks and athleticism. He was one of the most athletic players to ever step foot on the NBA hardwood.

At this point in his career, Griffin’s athleticism has waned significantly. The hype around the name Blake Griffin exceeds the flashy highlights he was once associated with, but he still has fuel in the tank.

The Nets are not getting the same Blake Griffin that jumped over the hood of a Kia Optima in the 2011 dunk contest. That is not what Griffin, the Nets organization, and the fans are realistically expecting. What the Nets are adding is another very talented and reliable contributor to solidify their bench.

Griffin is hungry to win his first NBA championship. Frankly, he hasn’t even come close to sniffing the Larry O’Brien trophy in the past. His furthest playoff run was with the Clippers in the 2015 playoffs, which resulted in a second-round collapse and a blown 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets.

This time is different though. Griffin will not be leaned on to the same degree. The spotlight will primarily be focused on Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. This will be excellent for Griffin as he can establish a smaller yet still critical role and excel in it without being asked to do too much.

For players that are heavily reliant on athleticism and/or speed, their games generally do not age well once they reach the back end of their career. Players who are categorized under that umbrella usually look to add or improve assets of their game to make them more deployable in significant minutes throughout the course of a lengthy season.

Griffin is a primary example of that. He will still be a threat because of his offensive repertoire, primarily his post-game. That has raised some questions regarding Griffin and his fit with the Nets, his high tendency to operate in the post. The Nets are not a team that utilizes post action often. This has led some to question how exactly his game will mesh with the current rotation. Instead of viewing it as a different style of play than what the Nets are used to running, look at it as an additional option to create a more unpredictable offensive scheme.

Additionally, Griffin also strives with ball handling, operating as the receiver in the pick and pop or pick and roll, and playmaking, the latter being a rare luxury from NBA big men. Over the years, Griffin has dramatically improved in those mentioned categories. He has career averages of 33.1 percent shooting from deep and 4.4 assists per game.

James Harden will be feeding him easy looks and lob opportunities now. While Harden is one of the greatest scorers the NBA has even seen, his best strength might reside with his ability to set the table for others and bolster the offense through his dazzling yet effortless playmaking ability.

With Griffin now in the mix with an abundance of talent around him, expect him to be playing energized and revamped during the latter stretch of the season once he finds his niche in Brooklyn.

What will Griffin look like when he hits the hardwood for the first time in Brooklyn? Who knows but expect him to be motivated and hungry. After all, a large handful of veteran players seem to find their groove once they are inserted into a better situation. Nic Batum, Jeff Green, and Dwight Howard are a few players that come to mind.

Now stop thinking about statistics momentarily and realize what Griffin can bring in terms of intangibles and off the court benefits. He has a positive and infectious personality that will bolster the already booming morale of the Nets team. Not everyone knows this about Griffin but he’s a stand-up comedian. The smiles and laughs are going to be infectious within the already close-knit team.

He is also a favorite not only with millions of fans worldwide, but with many members of the team whom he has previous ties with. He played with both DeAndre Jordan (with the Clippers) and Bruce Brown (with the Pistons) and has tremendous respect and admiration for the Nets big three and head coach Steve Nash.

James Harden was asked about his thoughts on his new teammate and responded “I’m sure he wants to win. If he’s passed up on money to stay in Detroit, he wants to win, and he wants to have an opportunity to play meaningful minutes. I’m assuming that’s one of the reasons he came.”

Griffin participated in a Q&A on Bleacher Report and he seemed to be an open book with his replies regarding his playing career.

One important quote from Griffin’s Q&A was “my only goal is to help win a championship. Some years it’s more realistic than others. But that’s why I came to Brooklyn.”

Griffin was also asked “What is your role? I imagine you’ve spoken to Steve Nash already.”

“I have. They need a four and sometimes they’ll play a small-ball five and I’m there to help out where I can. I think at this point in my career I’m able to fit different roles and my lone goal is to help this team win. I was appreciative of all the teams but I’m excited to be a Net.”

The Griffin signing symbolizes a common theme that has been echoed by General Manager Sean Marks since his introductory press conference… Culture.

Back in January following the Harden trade, Marks reassured “We still want to build a culture, the players look a little different. The staff looks a little different. But we have multiple culture drivers.”

The same remains true now after the signing of Griffin. The Nets look incredibly different now than they did two years ago. Both the team and the coaching staff have essentially undergone full transformations, but the roots of that tree that was planted are still showing.

Marks mentioned how the culture hasn’t changed, they have just implemented stars into their culture. To be fair, that’s not an enormous stretch or a mere PR coverup to justify trading away some beloved former players, the Nets culture is authentic.

James Harden, who has a somewhat notorious reputation for his vivacious party-heavy personality and lifestyle has been rather professional since his trade to Brooklyn. Under the proper system and tutelage, players will mature and play selflessly as they look to buy into a common goal, in this case, it’s bringing an NBA championship to a Nets franchise that has never experienced one.

In just five years, the Nets went from the laughingstock of the league to a free agent fantasy. The Blake Griffin signing will be publicly viewed as a Goliath signing but focus on the larger picture with a different lens and you’ll realize it’s just another testament to Sean Marks and the everlasting culture that has been established in Brooklyn.

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