SBD/February 1, 2011/Franchises

NBA Franchise Notes: Blake Griffin Sparks Clippers Renaissance

Clippers are drawing crowds at home, on road thanks to Blake Griffin
ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi writes Clippers F Blake Griffin is a "superstar the likes of which the league has rarely seen." He is the "kind of player the Clippers would have put beside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in old advertisements to attract fans to buy tickets to watch the Clippers play the role of helpless bystanders to the leagues' best." Now "for the first time in the franchise's star-crossed history one of those truly great players is actually playing for them." The Clippers "no longer have to advertise packages for fans to see big-name players on other teams." If anything, "opposing teams are now seeing a sudden spike in attendance for Clippers games as fans in other cities are coming out to see Blake for themselves." Not only has Griffin "attracted sellout crowds to Clippers games, he's done something almost as unimaginable." He "has forced Los Angeles fans to arrive in time for the opening tip-off" (ESPNLA.com, 2/1).

HANGING IN THE BALANCE: In N.Y., Howard Beck notes Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh's contract "expires June 30, and he has received no indication from ownership that he will be retained." The team "has until April 30 to pick up Walsh's option for the 2011-12 season," and it would be "shocking if the Knicks let Walsh walk away." But Knicks Owner James Dolan is "famously unpredictable," and those inside and outside MSG are "unsure what his thoughts are regarding Walsh." The "ambiguity surrounding Walsh's status is creating unease among some Knicks officials and employees, who revere the New York-born Walsh for saving the franchise from the humiliation of the Isiah Thomas era." Walsh is "in the process of hiring" former Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien "to bolster the scouting operation." Team officials "insist that Warkentien's arrival has nothing to do with the Carmelo Anthony trade talks or with Walsh's future," but Warkentien "clearly has the experience to run the team if Walsh is pushed out" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/1).

FREEZE TAG:
In Portland, Andy Giegerich reports the Trail Blazers, "after two years of hiking ticket prices," will "keep rates flat for the 2011-12 season." Trail Blazers Senior VP & COO Sarah Mensah last week said that the team "will keep its rates the same for most seats while even dropping prices in certain arena locations." Team officials "expect to maintain the current streak of 137 straight sell-outs." Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers also "expect overall sponsorship dollars to jump by 5 percent by the time the 2010-11 season ends" (PORTLAND BUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/28 issue).

HOLDING PATTERN: In Detroit, Drew Sharp writes of the Pistons' ownership situation, "Indecision is killing this franchise's reputation. They can't sell the team. They can't trade Rip Hamilton for anything that involves a human pulse." Owner Karen Davidson "has so badly decimated the Pistons' once peerless standing in the public and league's mind that there's no guarantee that simply waiting for new ownership can sufficiently heal the wounds inflicted since Bill Davidson's death two years ago." Whether it is Platinum Equity Chair & CEO Tom Gores or the Ilitch family "taking over the checkbook, they'll face a steep challenge in rebuilding public credibility" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/1).

RARE AIR: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing co-Owner and Bobcats investor Felix Sabates said of Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan, "I like Michael a lot. He has really done a lot of things. There's so much difference between him and Bob Johnson. It's like day and night. He put up $170 million of his own money into it, plus what he borrowed. So he's got to make it work. I think in Michael's case, it will work. It might be a process of two or three years. He's got his money in it, and he doesn't have any other source of income like Bob did. Bob could lose some money. Michael, this is it. He's motivated" (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/28 issue).
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