With a little more than a week to go before the trade deadline, we’ve likely already seen the best player to switch teams this season.
In a move that few saw coming, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick (protected 1-4 through 2020, unprotected in 2021) and a 2019 second-round pick. Detroit also receive Brice Johnson and Willie Reed from Los Angeles.
The transaction has positive and negative aspects for each side, which makes it a difficult trade to judge through a binary lens – at least in the immediate aftermath.
Let’s parse the move to make sense of it for both franchises.
End of Lob City
In the span of seven months, the Clippers have lost the two best, and most iconic, players in the team’s history, with Chris Paul traded to Houston in the summer and now Griffin shipped to Detroit.
It feels like just yesterday when Paul was tossing alleys to Griffin and the Clippers were the most entreating basketball show in Los Angeles. But things can change in the blink of an eye in the NBA and the Clippers are now primed for a new era.
There’s zero doubt that LA are surrendering the best player in the deal, with Griffin’s star power, talent and production unmatched by any player in Detroit’s package. And unlike past stars who were traded because they were considered flight risks, Griffin is locked into a five-year, $171 million (Dh628m) contract he just signed this past July.
That contract, however, is what ultimately spooked the Clippers as they quickly realised this season their ceiling for the future. The silver lining in Paul’s departure was Griffin taking on more playmaking responsibility and while he’s averaging a career-high in assists (5.4), his game – outside of his 3-point shooting – hasn’t expanded to the extent that the Clippers likely envisioned.
Griffin hasn’t been good enough to be an All-Star in the Western Conference this season and it’s hard to have $171m owed to a great, but not top player. Especially when it looks like your team is going to be no better than a fringe playoff contender for the foreseeable future.
Which is why the Clippers decided to pivot. Not only do they get out of Griffin’s contract, they also picked up a potential lottery pick, a young, smooth-stroking small-ball four in Harris and an expiring contract in Bradley, whose $8.8m (Dh32.3m) will come off the books in the summer.
Bradley can be rerouted for another pick, giving the Clippers another tradeable asset to go with Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan.
Ultimately, the Clippers made the trade with future cap space to chase bigger fish in mind and by shedding Griffin, that dream becomes a more feasible reality.
The Clippers gave Blake Griffin a crazy-elaborate free agent pitch, even mock-retiring his jersey to the rafters...six months later he's shipped off to Detroit, a team he'd never have even taken a meeting with. Expect every big free agent this summer to demand a no-trade clause.— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) January 30, 2018
Pistons get their star
Before unpacking all the other factors involved, let’s acknowledge that Detroit got a star, in his prime, and locked into a long-term contract. Those types of players are hard to find and often harder to keep, especially if you’re a middling team that is far from being a free agent destination, like the Pistons are.
It came at a cost, of course, but the price becomes more palatable when you consider that Bradley was all but gone in free agency this summer and Harris will command big money when his current contract ends in 2019. Essentially, Detroit paid a fringe lottery pick to upgrade from a good player in Harris, to a great player in Griffin, with the assurance that they can benefit from the upsize for the coming years.
Griffin and Andre Drummond should work well together, not too dissimilar to the Griffin-Jordan pairing in LA. What Griffin loses in rim protection in going from Jordan to Drummond, he gains in playmaking as two of the best passing big men in the league join forces.
The problem, however, is there’s little else surrounding those two right now. Reggie Jackson, at his best, is an average point guard, while the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired in terms of depth and talent.
This move may end up locking the Pistons into the dreaded no man’s land as something more than a good team and something less than a contender, but even before this trade, there were few avenues at a bright future for Detroit.
Acquiring Griffin at least shakes up their landscape and gives them someone to attempt to build around.
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