In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Clippers have been cautiously optimistic about the recovery of rookie forward Blake Griffin from a fractured left patella. Team officials described Griffin's pending return as the equivalent of a major midseason trade acquisition.
Hopes for that de facto blockbuster deal were dashed Wednesday when the Clippers announced that Griffin would undergo season-ending knee surgery. The procedure will keep Griffin out for at least four months.
Griffin told team doctors Tuesday that he was suffering from pain in the knee after jumping into a pool for aqua-therapy. An examination revealed that the injury had not recovered as anticipated.
"After conferring with doctors, the decision was made that Blake would have season-ending surgery that would ensure he has the ability to have plenty of time to recover and be back by next season," Clippers coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy said. "Of course, I've been feeling crushed along with a lot of our other people."
Griffin put together a promising exhibition season, averaging 13.7 points and 8.1 rebounds and shooting 57 percent from the field. He injured the kneecap Oct. 23 in the Clippers' final exhibition game. After igniting the Clippers in transition with a blocked shot, Griffin finished the fast break with an exuberant dunk. He landed awkwardly and quickly grabbed the knee.
The initial timetable for Griffin's return was six to eight weeks. After a resting period, Griffin underwent an intensive rehabilitation regimen that included platelet-rich plasma treatment and bone stimulation.
In early December, the Clippers announced that the original prognosis of Griffin's return before the end of 2009 was being pushed back until after the new year.
After encouraging results Dec. 22 from a CT scan and an MRI exam on the patella, Griffin was cleared to begin running on an anti-gravity treadmill. The team was confident that the rookie would be able to resume basketball-related activities in three weeks.
Wednesday's news means that Griffin's rookie season, like that of 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden, will come a year later than expected.
Though the Clippers have been hovering below the .500 mark since the start of the regular season, lately the team has been playing better, winning five out of six games before a 104-102 loss at Memphis on Tuesday night. The Clippers were hopeful that Griffin's arrival could catapult them into playoff contention. With the news that he won't be returning, the team will have to persist without its prized rookie's on-court contributions.
"Obviously it's a little disappointing because of the fact that [Griffin] brings so much to the table," Dunleavy said. "As a group, we're coming together all the time. Add[ing] that amount of ability to our lineup at some point in time was something we were looking forward to."
Kevin Arnovitz covers the NBA for ESPN.com and is the author of the True Hoop Network's Clipper Blog.