The Clippers bit the big bullet and traded Blake Griffin only a few months after signing him to a five-year $171 million(ish) extension. What can we glean from this trade? Quite a bit. Let’s run through FAQ style:
How good is Blake Griffin right now?
The return for Griffin (a top four protected first round pick, Tobias Harris, and the last few months of Avery Bradley) was not overly inspiring. Nevertheless, Griffin is about turn 29 and is still quite good (20.7 PER, 3.3 BPM), but slightly below his established career averages (22.6 PER, 4.1 BPM). If the Clippers had any chance of being good, there would be reason to keep him around and see what happens. The Clipps are not good and they want to go the rebuild route. Expect them to dump all other assets shortly.
What about the injury stuff?
This is the real issue. Griffin’s missed a lot of time the last few years. This wasn’t always the case. Griffin missed his entire rookie season in 2009-10 but then missed only four games total over the next four seasons. Since then, things have been dicey. Here is a rundown of his recent injuries:
-2014-15: missed 15 games (staph infection in elbow)
-2015-16: missed 47 games (quad injury)
-2016-17: missed 21 games (knee scope and broke his hand punching trainer)
-2017-18: missed 16 games so far (MCL sprain)
So, Griffin has missed a bunch of time with random injuries. Some of these seem quite unlikely to happen again (trainer punch and staph infection) and others (knee/leg issues) could be recurring. It is not a sure thing that Griffin will not stay relatively healthy over the course of his contract but he does appear to have recovered from his one very major injury (the quad). The Clippers have rationally concluded it isn’t worth the risk for them but it isn’t crazy that Detroit would concluded that Griffin could stay relatively healthy the next few seasons.
How good is Detroit now?
If Griffin can stay healthy, the Pistons have a pretty good shot of possibly catching the 76ers, Pacers, or Wiz (assuming they tank without John Wall). Griffin helps a 19th rated offense become more efficient. While Griffin will definitely help, his boost is somewhat limited by the fact that Detroit had to trade its only legitimate scorer (Harris) to bring him in. Griffin is also a better defender and passer than Harris, which should also help.
The trade was a no-brainer for Stan Van Gundy, who will likely be fired unless Detroit starts making some playoff noise. Still, it does not seem likely that, this season, Griffin plus Andre Drummond is enough to win a playoff series (they would have to upset Boston, Cleveland, or Toronto). Assuming Detroit rallies to a low seed and loses a first round series, Van Gundy may successfully lobby owners to see what he could if they gave him one full season of Griffin/Drummond and, perhaps, an actual good guard. Absent finding an actual solid two guard or a better point, this will remain a very blah team next season.
How big a risk is this for Detroit?
Trading a first round pick for Griffin and two years of Harris is not a huge price to pay. The pick isn’t likely to be any worse than low lottery. The only real risk is that the Pistons are stuck with a huge dead contract of an injured Griffin and lose the ability to acquire another star as a result. Given the lack of stars on the open market, however, it’s not likely that the Pistons would find as good a player as Griffin could be in a trade of free agency in the next few years.
On top of that, it was evident that the Pistons were all in on trying to contend after signing Drummond anyway. The problem is that, like the 2012-13 Nets, Detroit is moving future assets and spending millions to ensure, at best, adequacy. It’s not a great plan but at least it is some sort of plan and ownership is just not going to accept a rebuild at this time.