T.J. SIMERS

Clippers' Blake Griffin could have a monumental career

Young star has some fine-tuning to make to his game, but there's no reason why he couldn't be one of the Clippers' all-time greats when all is said and done.

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Blake Griffin and I were discussing the statue that one day will be standing outside Staples Center.

As we talked, we struggled initially to make a connection.

Bless his big heart, it wasn't until he realized we were talking about him rather than a Page 2 statue that should already be there that we really started to understand each other.

A lot can go wrong, and of course I will write about that.

But there's also no reason why Griffin can't go down as the all-time original Clipper if he continues to remain with the team and bring the franchise the success it's never enjoyed before.

He's already been instrumental in leading the Clippers to their first division title. He's also advanced in his thinking. Rather than hang a banner in Staples to celebrate a division title, he said, the organization should be thinking about loftier goals.

OK, so he's 24, a dreamer, but I'll let you be the one to go chest to chest with him and tell him the Clippers' success defies even the most youthful imagination.

I like Griffin. How can you not if you have watched any of his commercials? The deadpan routine is no act. He might be the funniest athlete in town.

Asked to say a few words to a departing P.R. guy for the Clippers, whom he really liked, Griffin took the microphone and asked friends and family if someone could point out the guy he was supposed to be honoring.

Now as good as Griffin already is as a basketball player, he's going to have to be better to be statue-worthy. He's proved he can do that, his free-throw shooting markedly better as well as his outside shooting.

But that's also why I was critical of him a few days ago, suggesting he might want to work on his maturity as well. I'm 62, and told that all the time, so I know it's a work in progress.

"You have every right to be critical," Griffin said. "I'm probably more critical of myself than you ever will be."

I do love a challenge.

"You're trying," Griffin said. "More so than most, but believe me, I'm tougher on myself."

I had written that Griffin and teammate DeAndre Jordan had grown weary of Chris Paul's voice, while knowing Paul never shuts up on the court.

Griffin dismissed such a suggestion but said he did send a text to Paul with the suggestion they meet before Sunday's game with the Lakers.

"We had kind of a heart-to-heart before the game," he said. "It wasn't anything like we were beefing. It's just that sometimes the frustration of losing can make guys focus almost too much on themselves. I'm not saying he was doing that. I was the one doing it.

"We need to be on the same page, which brings everyone else along and makes us better as a team."

And so rather than tell Paul to shut up, Griffin said, he asked Paul to talk to him more.

"I told him, I need you to come to me and tell me what you are thinking every single play. I might already know what he's going to say and I'll try to tell him before he says it, but I need him. And that's what we did against the Lakers. We were talking all the time and it really worked well."

The Clippers played at the same level against the Lakers on Sunday as they had during a 17-game winning streak this season when they were considered contenders for an NBA championship.

They get Chauncey Billups back, and well, look who is dreaming now.

As for maturing, Griffin, much like Matt Kemp, is oozing with ability but also has been forced to grow quickly to satisfy the expectations of sports fans and sportswriters.

"I absolutely 100% agree with you I need to mature and get better with officials," Griffin said. "I've had that conversation with not only you, but my teammates, my coaches, my dad, friends, everybody."

He said it's very much like his development as an outside shooter, just something that will come but in time and with some pain.

"It's about the process," said Griffin, and a waste of brute strength at times when allowing the defense a break and settling for a step-back jumper.

"I understand," said Griffin. "I shot better than 60% from the field in college because I was dominating inside the paint. So why would I shoot out there when no one can really stop me inside?

"But to be better as a player, I have to take those outside shots. If I don't take those shots, then in time it's going to be harder and harder on me."

So the maturation of a potential superstar continues. Maybe not as quickly as some columnists might like, but there are statues to be built.

I don't want to sound like Kareem here, but the sooner Griffin gets his, others can be considered.

tj.simers@latimes.com

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