You can sign a free agent contract for $171 million and be traded six months later. You can be serenaded and romanced as a Clippers for life and still be traded. You can be the franchise face and still be traded. The only way you cannot be traded is if you have a no-trade clause and then you may have to suffer in purgatory for years before you are moved. The Blake Griffin lesson: Be careful what you ask for. Things change on a dime.
Griffin, in Detroit, has a new reality away from the excesses and luxuries of Hollywood. He’s in blue collar, rough rider Detroit. He told Marc Spears of ESPN that he knows what a “real franchise looks like”. It was received as it was intended, a blow back at the Clippers and their promises that turned into lies. But Griffin, as comfortable as he is in Detroit, who he says knows how to take care of players, can be traded by the Pistons too. There is no certainty in NBA business. No one is beyond salary cap relief trades and Griffin thinking he was special in that way only illustrates how naive he really was. His salary overwhelms the cap and the question always was could he deliver. Griffin was never a number one. He always had the luxury of Chris Paul to ease everything.
In Detroit, his shot attempts are consistent but his shot making is a career low, 42%. He’s not getting to the line but his assists are at a career level and he is still dropping 20 points a game. His defense hasn’t been good since the 2015-16 season and his offensive rating with the Pistons is a career low. But chalk that up to the new teammates, system, coaching, whatever. He still isn’t bringing $171 million to the table. Two out of his last four games he scored 13 points and 15 points. In the 13 point game, he had 2 rebounds in 28 minutes, shot 31% and the Pistons lost by 31 points. Two games later, he shot 35%. It is the worst fears about Blake Griffin as a max player. He isn’t the guy who can carry you by himself. He’s not Anthony Davis out there.
What happened with the Clippers may be the Detroit sad song: Blake Griffin resignation. You have to accept what is in front of you. Or, like my great auntie always says: put kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits. Griffin plays hard, he gives effort and often it just isn’t enough. Blake is a great NBA player but not a special one. His exodus from La-La land is a cautionary tale for the Paul Georges who have expressed a desire to come back home during free agency.
Unless you sign a no-trade clause, your professional life doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it. Particularly with the weight of the salary cap burdening everyone with consequences. A no-trade clause isn’t an antidote either. You can be stuck with a team, coach, organization you hate because there isn’t a better situation given the salary. So, be careful.
Although the Pistons are riding the gritty back of Blake, they have not been able to keep their head above water since his arrival. They had a quick honeymoon, a five game winning streak, and then settled into their fate. With Griffin, they are 9-13. The teams in front of the Pistons need a major collapse for the Pistons to crawl up in the standings. The Pistons and Griffin are focused on next year where they will have a full training camp to iron out the wrinkles, solidify chemistry, get everyone healthy and possibly enter the 2019 playoffs strong.
It’s natural to confuse one thing with another, to assume the regular season and its long road trips and fatigue inducing plane rides and twelve-thirty Sunday afternoon games, take something out of you and yes, the season is exhausting. But changing time zones and geography doesn’t change who you are, what your identity is. Griffin is an All-Star. But he needs guard talent to legitimize the best of him. And so he will sit these playoffs out, the first time in 7 years.
But to hear Griffin tell it, he is happy because he is wanted. It is that simple. But he thought he was wanted by Los Angeles when they rolled out the red carpet. He’s a little jaded now, not believing everything he is hearing. He definitely had a hard lesson to learn.
But it seems that is the Blake way. The #1 pick in the 2009 Draft, a draft with James Harden and Steph Curry, he had to sit out his rookie year with a knee injury. For Griffin, it is always three steps forward, one step back. He was brilliant and then he was injured and then he punched someone and then he was ashamed and then he came back strong and then he signed a mega deal and then he was injured and then he was traded. It is the roulette he has been on his entire career.
Everything you hear about Griffin is not really true. He’s quiet but he’s not shy. He’s funny with an often witty sense of humor. He works hard at his shooting and is a pristine passer with a point guard’s floor vision. The Clippers are not better without Blake. They need him right about now but what they disliked was his salary. If Blake was making $15-$19 million, he would still be on the team.
Now, it is the PIstons that need Blake Griffin. They need All-Star Blake. They need him to create space for shooters. They need his catch and shoot 12-footer. They need his unselfishness. They need his rebounds and slams. They need his floor presence. They need his technical fouls and emotion. They need defenses isolating on him, freeing up everyone else. They need his chemistry with Drummond. They need Blake Griffin because he is a great talent that is a difference maker. Last year in the playoffs, Griffin averaged 20.0 points and 6.0 rebounds before injury.
The Pistons are out the 2018 playoffs unless a miracle happens. The Clippers too. One franchise won the talent sweepstakes. One won the money sweepstakes. I’d want to win the talent and plan for the playoffs than win the money and plan for the summer.