Trading Blake Griffin Is Tricky

After the Clippers’ latest playoff exit to Portland in which Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were lost due to injury, it’s hard to fault their front office for considering a roster shakeup.  The organization appears to be exploring trade possibilities for Griffin which could involve the Bulls, Celtics, Raptors, or another team.

In some ways, Griffin has represented hope for Clipper fans, as the team has improved markedly since he was drafted first overall in 2009.  Of course, Paul has been a major factor in the team’s turnaround as well.  Regardless, the only player on the current roster who has spent more time with the team than Griffin is DeAndre Jordan.

Aside from sentimentality, the Clippers have one major reason not to deal Griffin right now.  Without real proof that he is fully healthy, I don’t expect them to get what is perceived as a fair return.

Despite the recent rumors, Doc Rivers is unlikely to trade Griffin unless he is blown away by an offer.  Getting rid of a dominant big man would go against how Rivers has operated since he arrived in California.  That thought process is understandable, especially if other teams are trying to buy low due to worries about his quad injury.

Rivers already commented that his power forward was “feeling good” in late June, but there’s no way that rival executives are taking his word for it.

After all, Griffin appeared in just 35 games in 2015-16 and opted out of participation in the Rio Olympics.  The Clippers have expressed confidence in their ability to compete next season, but it’s obvious that a healthy Griffin would need to be a key part of that.

Griffin’s suspension by the Clippers back in February is another factor that could scare away prospective suitors.

He was banned for four games for striking team equipment manager Matias Testi.  That led the team to release a statement that included: “this conduct has no place in the Clippers organization.”  While management has sought to move on from the incident, Griffin might well be seen as a less than ideal piece in terms of team chemistry.

He also broke his shooting hand in the altercation and didn’t return to action until April 3 against the Wizards.  It’s hard not to wonder whether the punishment might have been more severe if Griffin didn’t rank among the top ten heavy-usage isolation scorers in the league.

Despite missing time due to injury and off-court issues last season, Griffin’s production did not slip much on a per-game basis when compared to 2014-15.

Griffin’s approximate averages of 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists help explain why so many teams are still interested in his services.  At times, he plays like a second point guard in seeming defiance of his 6’10” frame.  Even teams not looking to swing a deal are hoping to snag him at some point in the future.

For instance, multiple reports claim that the Thunder are hoping to re-sign Russell Westbrook and claim Griffin as a free agent next summer if he declines his player option.

Even if Griffin and Paul do remain Clippers in the long run, they are expected to opt out for financial reasons after next season.  That also makes trading Griffin thorny, because most teams won’t want to part with big-time players or prized prospects in exchange for just one year of control.

Now that Golden State has added Kevin Durant to an already talented roster, that single year seems even less valuable.  It’s possible that Griffin would agree to an immediate extension once dealt.  However, doing so would deny him the chance to become an unrestricted free agent a year after guys like DeMar DeRozan and Mike Conley inked massive contracts.

A trade for Blake Griffin and the remaining $20 million he is owed would also have to comply with strict salary cap rules.  A potential deal would likely include what’s known as “trade ballast,” or contracts included simply to send back enough salary.

A healthy Blake Griffin could easily make his sixth All-Star appearance this coming season, but leg issues continue to hinder his trade value.

One could understand the Clippers dealing him if he were certain to depart via free agency, but there are no current signs that he’s unhappy in Los Angeles.  Trading him could bring the Clippers young assets but is tantamount to an admission that the team is ready to rebuild.  That’s a dangerous signal to send when Chris Paul is less than a year away from being wooed by other teams.

Even worse, a trade would likely hurt the franchise’s hope to win new fans after a year that saw the Clippers’ television ratings move closer to those of the Lakers.

Without proof that Griffin can handle a full season or assurance that he would stay with a new team, the Clippers might only get 50 cents on the dollar anyway.


photo via llananba