January 30th, 2018
Pistons go all in on big gamble for
bona fide star Griffin. Will it work?
By KEITH GAVE
The Detroit Pistons can’t seem to win a basketball game lately, but they sure know how to win a news cycle.
In a trade that shocked the NBA world – and speaks volumes for how serious owner Tom Gores and team president/coach Stan Van Gundy are about bringing a winner to Detroit – the Pistons dealt three players and two draft picks to the San Diego Clippers for five-time all-star Blake Griffin and two others.
The team that gets the best player in a deal is typically viewed as the winner, at least in the short term. But the only thing the pundits seem to agree on is that the trade will have far-reaching ramifications for both teams – ramifications that could go either way on both, as well.
A skeptic might suggest this is a move oozing with panic, made by a guy, Van Gundy, whose job probably depends on his team not just making the playoffs, but making a little noise in this, his fourth season in Detroit. His team had lost eight in a row heading into Tuesday night’s game against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons were in ninth place, 2½ games behind eighth-place Philadelphia with only 34 games remaining in the regular season.
A cynic – that’s a skeptic with an advanced degree in disdain – might take even a cursory look at some numbers behind the deal and scream, “Have the Pistons lost their minds?” Those numbers basically being Blake Griffin’s contract.
He is being paid $29,727,900 for this season. By averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, we can debate ad nauseum whether he is “earning” that paycheck. But when we toss in the fact that the oft-injured Griffin, 29 in March, has played just 33 of the Clippers’ 49 games this season, the debate becomes that much more intriguing.
Now consider that Griffin’s contract calls for substantial raises in the next four seasons:
2021-22: (player option) $38,957,028
That means the Pistons are on the hook for more than $142 million over the next four seasons. Oh, and Griffin will be 33 in the final season of that contract, too.
This deal is every bit as burdensome to the Pistons as Miguel Cabrera’s is for the Tigers.
In other words, the Pistons can only hope Griffin stays healthy, continues to play like one of the top handful of players in the league and carries his team to some success in the post-season. Or, at the very least, create some the kind of buzz that translates into getting more butts in the seats at Little Caesars Arena. To date, basketball crowds have been embarrassingly small.
So yeah, if this feels like panic-city at the Pizz-Arena, it probably is. Give Gores credit for acknowledging the perils of this deal. He explained it this way in a message he released in his Twitter account:
“We are serious about winning, and this is a major move to improve our team. Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s elite players, and when you get an opportunity to add that kind of talent, you take it. The move is not without risk. We gave up a lot to get him, including Tobias Harris – one of the hardest-working, highest-character players I know – and two high-quality young men in Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic. But we are very excited to bring Blake Griffin to Detroit. He is a great fit for our team and will bring a combination of toughness and athleticism that will elevate our team and excite our fans.”
The Pistons also gave up a first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft, and its second-round pick next season. But given Van Gundy’s track record at the draft table, that doesn’t seem like a lot – if that’s what it took to clinch the deal.
In the end, Detroit gave up a ton, but they got a special player, someone with bona fide star power who can sell tickets and, more importantly, help Van Gundy recruit the pieces the Pistons need in the off-season as they try to build around Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.
Stars like Griffin, the former first-overall selection by the Clippers in 2009, are hard to come by. The NBA is a league dominated (and run by) its stars. Without them, the ceiling for a team is rather limited, as it was for the Pistons before this trade was made.
With a guy like Griffin, well, the sky is the limit, which is what Gores and Van Gundy were shooting for.
And for that, they deserve some credit, and our appreciation.
Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available for pre-sale on Amazon.com. Watch this space for local appearances and book-signings.
Follow on twitter @KeithGave