Well, that happened.
After seven and a half seasons, Blake Griffin is no longer with the Los Angeles Clippers. The five-time all-star was dealt to the Detroit Pistons on Monday evening in exchange for a package of players and picks.
As the Feb. 8 trade deadline nears, there have been a small handful of big names rumoured to be on the market — Griffin’s former teammates DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams included — but the Clippers-Pistons negotiations for the former first-overall pick went comparatively under the radar until only moments before the deal was reported to be finalized.
So what does it all mean for the teams and players involved? Who won and who lost in the aftermath of the season’s biggest blockbuster so far? For the most part, there are more winners than losers in a deal that addresses needs and wants for both franchises.
Let’s take a closer look.
Detroit Pistons receive: Blake Griffin, Willie Reed, Brice Johnson
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjonavic, 2018 1st-round pick, 2019 2nd-round pick.
Gores and his company, Platinum Equity, purchased the Pistons back in 2011 and haven’t had a truly marketable star. Enter: Griffin. He may be just past his prime, but he can still contribute and, for the time being at least, should be able to drum up interest from casual Detroit sports fans — which is critical given the well-reported attendance issues this season, the first in the newly-built Little Caesars arena in downtown Detroit.
And with that, “Lob City” is officially dead. In the span of six months, L.A. has severed ties with the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin nucleus that led them to six straight playoff appearances and five straight 50-plus win seasons. What’s left in their wake is a roster of okay-to-good players — supporting cast members at best — and a surprise star in Lou Williams (…for now).
The Clippers are currently a half-game out of a playoff spot, but expect that number to grow. The team is clearly thinking big picture and long-term in making this trade, as clear a push of the reboot button as there could be.
The move comes barely half a season into the first of a five-year, $171-million contract Griffin signed with the team this past off-season. It’s a hefty contract for a player who’s athleticism — for years the foundation of his game — seems to be waning fast after numerous knee injuries.
It’s a burdensome contract, sure, but in Toronto we know all too well how much a franchise can be set back when a top-level talent leaves in free agency (see: Bosh, Chris). It’s become more clear this season that with Griffin as it’s go-to player the team has a limited ceiling, so give the Clippers and new front office decision-maker Jerry West credit for getting assets in return rather than watch Griffin walk for nothing last summer.
Yes, it’s a sting when a player with name value like Griffin departs, particularly when nobody in return comes close to moving the needle in the same way from a marketing/building-a-fan-base perspective. But when Griffin is 30 years old averaging 18 points and six rebounds and making $36.5 million dollars, Los Angeles doesn’t have to sign that cheque.
Instead, the Clippers get a bona fide starting small forward in Tobias Harris, who at 25 is having his best season to date. Harris is on a favourable contract that will pay him $14 million next season. They also get Avery Bradley, whose salary comes off the books this season, and could very well be dealt again to a contender for more picks/young assets to help aid the Clippers’ rebuild.
The draft pick received from Detroit should land somewhere in the low-mid teens, where a good prospect can easily be found — in last year’s draft promising high-potential young pieces like Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo and John Collins were drafted between picks 13-19.
It’s been reported that the Clippers are committed to starting fresh and will be working hard to shop centre Jordan (who has a player option for nearly $25 million next season) and Williams. If they pull those deals off, then free-agent bust (so far) Danilo Gallinari will be the only player on the books for a high cap number ($21 million) over the next few seasons.
L.A. fans fell in love with Griffin, endured injury scares and volatile behaviour. He helped lift the Clippers from the NBA’s laughing stock to an exciting, winning team, albeit one who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Losing him might sting at first, but in the big picture this was a necessary move for the Clippers’ future.
Reggie Jackson hasn’t appeared in a game since December, and Ish Smith has filled in admirably in his absence. But once the Pistons’ de facto starter returns to the lineup (he’s injured, but has reportedly removed his walking boot), the point guard will have a new asset in the pick-and-roll on the floor as the Pistons roll the dice with a Jackson-Griffin-Andre Drummond core for the time being.
But wait, there are more Reggie’s! Reggie Bullock has quietly been rock solid since being inserted into the Pistons starting lineup on Dec. 12. After taking over the starting shooting guard job from the struggling Bradley, Bullock is averaging double-digit scoring while shooting over 50 per cent from the floor and 49.5 per cent from deep. The loss of Bradley — and now total lack of wing depth on the Pistons — should help solidify Bullock’s role, while the double-teams Griffin often commands on his way to the rim should help find Bullock more clean looks.
It really wasn’t working out for Bradley in Detroit. In Los Angeles he’ll come off the bench again, and have the opportunity for a fresh start. But given he likely doesn’t play into the Clippers long-term plans and is on an expiring deal, he could be on the move again, an attractive piece for a contender given his resume and reputation as a hard-nosed two-way player. The Boston Celtics could use a boost in their second-unit and have a pool of draft picks to send the Clippers way to bring Bradley back. Just saying…
His star won’t shine as bright now that he’s out of L.A., but on the court Griffin will have the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot in the East — the Pistons are currently ninth in the standings — and won’t have to languish on a losing Clippers team that may have been trying to rebuild around him over the next few seasons.
The aerial acrobatics are far less frequent these days, but Griffin is still a really good player who has evolved nicely with the NBA’s on-court trends. He’s one of the best passing big men, averaging a career-best 5.4 assists this season (LeBron James, Draymond Green and Ben Simmons are the only forwards averaging more) and scoring slightly more than he has in five seasons (22.6 points per game). In the East, with a smaller pool of talent at the forward spot, Griffin’s path to making an all-star game is likely easier, for whatever that’s worth.
The Detroit Pistons (and their salary cap)
Again, this was a deal that worked out for both teams involved. The Clippers move ahead in their apparent rebuild, while the Pistons land a marquee name that could help put butts in the seats and drum up interest from new fans.
But if there is a loser in this deal it’s undoubtedly the Pistons, who will have to pay Griffin’s enormous contract. He has a player option for the 2020-21 season that will pay him $39 million. That’s an unbelievably tough pill to swallow, granted one Detroit won’t have to pout over so long as they’re thinking short-term and focusing, for now, on building a supporting cast around the Griffin and Drummond front court.