This is Darrell Griffith's career, for you. Just when he's becoming the latest Mr. Jazz, he's on the bench and in a 3-point shooting slump.
This is the same Griff who played three seasons for a struggling team and went home every April; missed a full season at his peak; was also out during the team's most celebrated playoff run; and is still fighting for playing time and a chance to finish his career in Utah."He's gone through a lot of adversity," says Jazz general manager David Checketts.
By appearing tonight and Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Griffith will catch Rickey Green for the all-time Jazz lead in games played. A meaningful record? "To be around that long, yeah," says Griffith, who has played in every game this season.
Only last summer, word swirled that Griffith's career was in doubt, following knee surgery.
"I look at things like that as challenges," Griffith says now. "All the doubters didn't know what was happening. It was a real soap opera, the stuff that was going around."
Griffith came back and averaged 19 points in November, helping the Jazz to a 13-7 start, without the injured Bobby Hansen. "He actually kept our head above water," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
"I could probably be critical of how he's playing now, but I know that without him, we wouldn't have come out of the chute the way we did," Checketts said.
In between the tough times and the recent injuries, Griffith has played for two Midwest Division title teams. After coming back and helping carry the Jazz through the first half of this season, though, his Jazz future is still in question: Can he live happily as a non-starter in the Sloan system? Could the Jazz actually expose him in the expansion draft again?
"In this position, anyone can get traded." says Griffith. "Anyone can go here or there."
For now, Griffith is the Jazz's player of the '80s. After their first season in Utah, the Jazz overlooked Kevin McHale and drafted Griffith, a marquee player who'd just led Louisville to the NCAA championship.
"Griffith was a superstar and gave us credibility," says Jazz president Frank Layden.
Reviewing the early Utah years, former teammate Allan Bristow noted, "The first big boost was drafting Darrell Griffith . . . it was really the first big break the franchise got."
Griffith immediately became a steady scorer, averaging 21.0 points through five seasons as the Jazz steadily improved. Of the no-playoffs years, Griffith says, "I tell all the rookies I'm glad they didn't have to go through what I went through. That was rough. A lot of guys probably couldn't handle it."
Just when the Jazz became a playoff fixture, Griffith missed the 1985-86 season after breaking his foot in a pickup game on the Louisville campus. In the following two years, he had to share his job - first, with the improved Hansen and rookie Dell Curry; then, with Hansen and Kelly Tripucka.
There was the knee, too. After having to regularly drain fluid from Griffith's left knee last season, the Jazz medical staff decided he needed surgery. That meant another comeback - and as late as October, Jazz officials thought they'd have to baby him through the season. Instead, he's played almost 30 minutes a game - even more in the first three months, when Hansen missed 36 games - with no complications. "It's really amazing," says trainer Don Sparks. "We didn't have any idea he'd be able to play this much."
Says Griffith, "As long as I knew I could walk, I was fine."
The knee, described by one team official last fall as arthritic, could affect Griffith later. At the moment, the issue is whether he can exist in Sloan's offense that limits early, outside shots. Answer: Yes, if Griffith is willing to come off the bench; Sloan, who switched to Hansen for the 74th game of the season, can handle Griffith's shot selection much easier as the featured scorer for the Purple Team.
Still trying for his 400th career 3-pointer, Griffith has made only 2 of his last 25 tries in five weeks. He did break out of an overall slump with 7-of-9 shooting and 17 points at Portland Saturday. "Everybody goes through those situations," says Griffith, who will be 31 in June. "That's professional basketball."
"I'm just hoping he can adjust to coming off the bench and being the designated scorer," Checketts said. "He's perfect for that role."
Griffith: "That's no problem . . . you've got to do what you've got to do. It's going to take a while. Of course, everyone would like to be more involved."
By now, it's no secret that off-guard is the Jazz's weakest spot - after all, they have All-Star level players everywhere else. After another season of mixing and matching with Griffith, Hansen and now Jim Farmer, Checketts knows he has to address the position.
He also has the expansion draft to consider. Last summer, exposing Griffith was a logical risk, with his surgical knee. This time, having played every game and carrying a salary ($685,000) that's modest by today's standards, Griffith would be attractive. Would Checketts expose Griffith to keep Jim Les, Jose Ortiz or Farmer?
For obvious reasons, Checketts is saying nothing yet. "I hope Darrell will move himself into a situation where there's no way we could afford that," Checketts said. "I want to see him finish up in style; not only this year, but his career."
Same for Griffith, who saw his buddy Green move on after last season. "It would be nice," he says. Depending on what happens in the playoffs, Griffith looks like he's in for another interesting summer.
The Utah Jazz' all-time leaders in games played:
Rickey Green 606
Darrell Griffith 604
Mark Eaton 564
Rich Kelley 497
Thurl Bailey 484
Adrian Dantley 461
Jeff Wilkins 427
John Stockton 406
Bobby Hansen 386
Aaron James 336
Pete Maravich 330
Karl Malone 323