After seven seasons, six consecutive playoff appearances and five All-Star selections, Blake Griffin is a Los Angeles Clipper no longer.
USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt break down Monday’s blockbuster trade of Griffin to the Detroit Pistons from the view of both franchises.
When word broke of the deal, there was understandable attention paid to this harsh reality: Just six months after the team deemed Griffin “a lifelong Clipper” during their free agency presentation that led to him signing a five-year, $171 million deal, he was gone.
But for all the focus on the Clippers’ glitz-and-glamour show that helped them keep Griffin in tow, there were plenty of other bread crumbs along the way that should have left all of us bracing for this kind of move. The bottom line? You don’t build a front office like this if you’re not going to consider all options – in this case, the trade that sent Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to Detroit in exchange for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick.
June 19 – The Clippers announce the hiring of Jerry West as a consultant, making him the right-hand man to owner Steve Ballmer. West, whose reputation as a risk-taking executive dates back to his days building the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty in the 1980s, played a pivotal role in the Golden State Warriors’ rise in recent years while serving in a similar role. It was a bold move by Ballmer, who is known to have paid West between $4 million and $5 million annually.
Aug. 4 – Lawrence Frank (executive vice president of basketball operations) is deemed the head of the front office, while Doc Rivers loses his basketball operations title in the process as he turns his focus solely to his head coaching role.
Aug. 21-25 – The Clippers announce the hirings of Michael Winger (previously with the Oklahoma City Thunder) as general manager and Trent Redden (previously with the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Mark Hughes (from the New York Knicks) as assistant general managers.
There is no shortage of smart voices in the Clippers’ proverbial war room, and they had plenty to discuss in these recent days after the Pistons started calling about this deal. But once you get past the shock value, it makes all sorts of sense for the Clippers (25-24).
This wasn’t going to be a title-contending team anytime soon, and this sort of financial flexibility is key for any rebuilding team. There’s likely more to come too, as big man DeAndre Jordan and super scorer Lou Williams are short-list trade targets for contenders like the Cleveland Cavaliers as the Feb. 8 deadline looms.
The first-round pick the Clippers landed matters above all else for their renewed purposes, as they will now have two first-rounders this summer (including their own) at a time when they are at a premium. In today’s NBA, and with the Clippers not being among the eight teams on track to have salary cap space this summer, landing a quality young player on a rookie contract is the way to go. The fear for the Clippers, of course, is that Griffin helps the Pistons enough to push this pick out of the lottery (Detroit currently has the NBA’s 13th-worst record).
The 25-year-old Harris is not only one of the game’s best small forwards who has yet to reach his prime (18.1 points, 5.1 rebounds per game), but he has the kind of contract (one season remaining on his deal, at $14.8 million) that offers far more flexibility than Griffin’s. Bradley (15 points per game; one of the league’s best perimeter defenders) will be a free agent this summer. Marjanovic has one more season, at $7 million, on his deal.
The Pistons’ biggest free agent signing was Chauncey Billups – in 2002.
It’s difficult for the Pistons to land top-tier free agents, and president of basketball operations and coach Stan Van Gundy understands that, perhaps learning a thing or two from his Orlando Magic days.
That’s why the Pistons under Van Gundy have treated trades as their version of free agency – acquiring a talented player through a trade knowing it’s not easy getting those types of players once they become free agents.
That’s why it’s also not a surprise that Van Gundy made this blockbuster deal.
Griffiin has four years left on his contract following this season, giving the Pistons a premier big who can play inside and outside, score, rebound and possibly mesh with center Andre Drummond for a dominant interior.
The Pistons have made similar trades, albeit not one of this magnitude. They traded for point guard Reggie Jackson when he was headed into restricted free agency following the 2015-16 season. They also acquired Harris during the 2015-16 season, the first year of his four-year, $64 million contract he had just signed with Orlando in the previous offseason.
The Pistons also traded for Marcus Morris in the summer of 2015 with four years and $20 million remaining on his contract.
The Pistons now have Griffin’s rights for the 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Griffin has a player option for 2021-22. It’s smart business if a team makes it work by building through the draft and trades, knowing that’s the cycle it has to repeat.
Detroit needs Griffin’s help to reach the playoffs this season. The Pistons are 22-26 but have lost 11 of their past 13 games, including eight consecutive.
On Dec. 30, Detroit was 20-15 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and now they are in ninth, three games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the final playoff spot and four games behind Indiana and Milwaukee. A nice string of victories puts the Pistons right back in the top eight.
The trade is also viewed under the prism of Van Gundy’s future with the Pistons. He has produced just one winning season and playoff appearance (44-38 in 2015-16) with the team and is 135-159 overall.
The Pistons and Van Gundy need to win now.