Why the Clippers should unload superstar Blake Griffin before Thursday's NBA trade deadline.
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Feb. 15, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.
The Clippers would be crazy to trade five-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin. Everyone knows this. The NBA belongs to its best players, and the 6'10" Griffin is better and younger (26) than any star Los Angeles could possibly get in return. Deal him for role players and draft picks, you say? Ask the Thunder how that worked with James Harden. Seven years after the Clippers made him the No. 1 pick, Griffin has transformed them from a Jay Leno punch line to a serious marker on the NBA map. He helped lure point guard Chris Paul to L.A. in 2011, and he'll attract other stars if Paul ever leaves. You don't unload players who can turn your entire franchise around.
And yet ... If there's one move every NBA fan should be rooting for as the Feb. 18 trade deadline approaches, it's for the Clippers to deal Griffin.
Ship him to Celtics for Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and draft picks. Send him to the Heat for Chris Bosh and Justise Winslow. Pack him off to the Knicks, put him in Madison Square Garden next to Kristaps Porzingis, and let Paul and Carmelo Anthony finish their careers chasing rings in L.A.
Any of these swaps would instantly make the Clippers more fun and the rest of the league more interesting. Lob City, the name Griffin bestowed on the team after Paul's arrival, feels as if it began 10 years ago. Each spring since has brought a playoff failure more horrific than the preceding one, and with the Warriors and the Spurs scorching through the West, the prospects for this postseason don't look much better. Paul is basically the hero in a Greek tragedy at this point. Starting center DeAndre Jordan nearly fled for Dallas as a free agent last off-season before his teammates emoji'ed him to come back. The offense still stalls at the end of close games, just as it has in the playoffs, and the Clippers are winless against the league's top four teams. We know how this story ends.
Trade Griffin, and projecting the future becomes more fun. This has nothing to do with his history of injuries or his recent altercation with the team's assistant equipment manager, in which he broke his right hand, sidelining him until late February at the earliest. It's what his time off the court has revealed about the rest of the Clippers' roster. In a smaller lineup, Paul can be surrounded by shooters and terrorize defenses off the pick-and-roll; the added space in the paint and increased pace makes him even deadlier. Meanwhile, freed to work on his own down low, Jordan turns into a more imposing Dennis Rodman, anchoring the defense, finishing alley-oops and ruling the boards.
Possessions that typically ran through Griffin now run through everyone, with jumpers raining down from everywhere. On Jan. 31 the Clippers whipped passes all over the court to torch a top five Bulls defense 120—93. Now imagine that offense with perimeter reinforcements (Bradley and Crowder? Bosh? Anthony?) from a potential Griffin trade.
While we're dreaming, put Griffin in Boston. Or in Miami. Or in New York. He's one of the most complete players in the NBA, capable of carrying an offense and turning defenses inside out with scoring or passing. On a team built around his skills, Griffin could be even more potent. The NBA would be adding a contender for years to come, while Paul and Jordan would be weaponized for a few more runs at the top of the West.
Crazy? Sure. But what's the alternative for coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers and the Clippers? Doing the same thing and expecting different results? That's insane.