Blake Griffin finally has his own team and he didn’t even need to leave L.A. to get it.
The Clippers have agreed to sign Griffin to a five-year maximum contract worth $173 million, according to multiple reports. The five-time All-Star averaged 21.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 4.9 APG last season, but missed 21 games due to a knee surgery before suffering a season-ending toe injury during the playoffs.
Despite those injury concerns, L.A. moved to lock up the former No. 1 overall pick after trading All-Star point guard Chris Paul to Houston earlier this week. The deal should keep the Clippers in the postseason mix next season and put to bed growing speculation that the franchise was headed for a full-scale teardown following Paul’s departure.
Griffin entered this off-season as one of the 2017 class’s biggest stars and biggest unknowns, but the events of the last week appear to have simplified his decision. As the postseason heartbreaks for coach Doc Rivers, Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick mounted in recent years, it became more difficult—and prohibitively expensive—to envision the entire group sticking together.
At the heart of this uneasiness was the less-than-ideal pairing of Paul and Griffin, two genuine superstars who always seemed to fall short of ideal chemistry, results and, frankly, contentment. Griffin, a phenomenally talented all-around scorer and playmaker, has settled into something less than the peak player that seemed possible in 2014. While injuries have been the major culprit, Paul’s ball dominance has also locked Griffin into a secondary role.
Griffin is headed for a “Now I do what I want” freedom akin to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook following Kevin Durant’s 2016 departure. He’ll be the focal point of L.A.’s offense next year, encouraged to push the tempo off of defensive rebounds, initiate big-to-big action with Jordan, explore his developing three-point range, and take as many shots as he can handle. For Griffin, an enhanced offensive role, a fresh start without Paul, reduced postseason expectations in the wake of Paul’s departure and the ability to continue playing in a market he enjoys adds up to a very compelling package. Throw in a no-negotiation-needed max deal, and it’s easy to see why this deal was struck so quickly.
The Clippers’ side of this, however, is a little stickier. Griffin is already 28, he’s suffered multiple season-ending injuries in recent years and missed 15+ games in each of the past three seasons, he’s a power forward who isn’t an elite rim-protector or three-point shooter, and his jaw-dropping bounce is not as reliable as it was when he first entered the league. Will Griffin be able to hold up physically, a la Westbrook, once his usage skyrockets and his minutes likely increase next year? And will he continue to have the same impact on games if the NBA’s style of play continues to favor maximally-spaced lineups?
While Griffin drew interest from the likes of Boston, Phoenix, Denver and others, L.A. was always in position to make him the best financial offer. Their quick signing gives them a clear direction and ensures they avoid a worst-case scenario, but it also inextricably ties their future to Griffin’s spotty health and his ability to perform at a superstar level through his age-32 season. For those risks, one would think they might have been able to wiggle out at least some measure of protection.