The Clippers decided to part with Blake Griffin and trade him to the Pistons. While it might have been a cold-blooded move, it was the right one. Only time will tell if Griffin, who signed a five-year, $173 million contract this summer, succeeds in Detroit.
There's a chance Griffin could stay healthy and make several All-Star Games as a member of the Pistons. He could also languish in Detroit for the remainder of his deal and live in a purgatory similar to what Carmelo Anthony experienced in New York. Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss the latter on the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast.
Check out the full episode here and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. (The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity).
Ben Golliver: There was lots of concerns from some people that Blake Griffin was at risk of becoming the next Amare Stoudemire, one of these athletic power forwards whose games falls off a cliff once he starts getting to his late 20s, and he's not the same guy and you're paying this huge money for a superstar who's giving you nothing and now you're totally stuck, right? That's a possibility for Blake if the injuries continue, but there is another possibility, a pretty good possibility—and I would argue a better possibility—that Blake just becomes the next Carmelo Anthony.
Andrew Sharp: I really thought you were going to put a positive spin on everything and you somehow made it meaner than Amare, because at least Amare had the knee injuries as an excuse.
Golliver: No, not at all, because I think that is really how you get stuck, and the Knicks were really stuck because they kind of believed in Melo. They talked themselves into Melo, and the Clippers could have made that mistake. It's very easy to see them chasing the sixth seed year after year, he looks like a star, he puts up some per-game stats like a star so therefore he's a star. But in reality, his impact isn't quite living up to that, and let me just say this: the Knicks could make that work because they're the Knicks in New York. They're the show. The Nets are still the challenger brand, they're across the bridge, people don't really respect them and they've been a complete mess.
The Clippers are competing with the Lakers, so they've already got the Lonzo Ball hype factor going there. Even if you look at this year's home attendance, the Clippers have dropped from 10th last season to 20th already this season. That's a big hit. The crowd was really not responding to Blake like they used to, and it was very easy to envision a future where essentially you this disgruntled Staples Center crowd who's over Blake's antics similar to how the Madison Square Garden crowd was sort of over Carmelo, and it's kind of a lose-lose for everyone.
And you're also mentioning the Clippers front office, and I want to say quickly. I've spent a decent amount of time with them for a piece I've been working on. I'm not going to say I'm embedded—that's giving myself too much credit. But one thing you're right about is their changing approach to depth and development, and Lawrence Frank told me in an interview in his office basically a week ago. He said their plan this year was to redefine what being a Clipper meant. They wanted to be a challenger brand in L.A. because they have so much competition in the market they have to work harder to prove themselves. And they want blue-color guys with qualities like competitiveness, high character, hard playing, toughness, basketball IQ and being a great teammate.
So that is the exact opposite of we're going to pay three superstars and just try to make the pieces work around them, which is what the Clippers have been for years. And to complete that transition, to really get to where Frank's vision, it's not just about trading away Chris Paul for tough guys like Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell and everybody else, it's sending Blake packing and trying to put his salary cap space and his number and his shots and touches to different use. And so I think from that standpoint you're right right, the Clippers' front office probably didn't rush to the conclusion like it might seem on the outside to people who are shocked by this move. This most likely was months in the making.
Sharp: Can I just say I love the idea of you bunkered down with Lawrence Frank just talking hoops and talking development in Los Angeles.
Golliver: I'll say we talked for an hour. I want to say he had in between 14 and 15 espresso shots within the hour. The guy is just an absolute animal and I really respect him. We'll see where their franchise goes, but I think anytime you see a trade... like you're mentioning that tweet and Jerry West is involved at least one degree of separation from the move, the odds are pretty good his fingerprints are all over it, right? I mean, Jerry West is not one to ever worry about emotions, to care for feelings. In his own head, in his own life, he's obviously someone who's dealt with all types of tough experiences, but that's a coldhearted dude who just wants to win, who wants to be a player in free agency and attract star players. And this move absolutely meshes what we're seeing as Lawrence Frank's vision, but also meshes that with what we know about Jerry West as an executive and as a power player.
Sharp: Can I ask you something? We've talked about this being a coldhearted move. I called it a ruthless move 10 minutes ago. The more we talk about it, though, it's not that ruthless. Look, he is making $175 million, and they paid him that and made sure he was taken care of. And I've seen a lot of people say that this going to mean every superstar gets a no-trade clause in their deal going forward and it may well mean that, but Blake couldn't get a no-trade clause in his deal because everyone knew that he was injury-prone and that his body was breaking down when he signed the deal. So that was part of the process and part of the negotiations all along. I totally understand, especially when you juxtapose this trade with the July pitch to him with the Pioneer shirt and the video presentation. I think they had a maze of all his major life events. It definitely looks bad, but I think a lot of this is just business, and it's not like Blake had been playing at a discount in L.A. So I would measure the coldhearted takes as far as the Clippers are concerned.
Golliver: Andrew, I appreciate your effort to go against the grain, but I really do disagree. First of all, you laid out their free agency pitch to him. I mean, this is the same organization that has the lottery ping-pong balls they used to select him in 2009 framed in a glass case prominently displayed in their practice facility so it's like the first thing you see when you go in. They've pitched him as Mr. Clipper, they've got him on all the billboards, he's the center of the marketing campaign. You remember when they had that crazy tunnel incident when Chris Paul and all these guys were supposedly getting with a fight? Well, who was the guy the very next day who was meeting with the elementary school kids, like shaking hands and taking pictures as part of the community service program. It's Blake Griffin.
Sharp: Alright, if you're going to bring the elementary school trips into it, sure.
Golliver: No, I'm serious. This is his role with this team. This guy has been synonymous with the Clippers, and this was a trash brand. This is a guy who went through all that nonsense with Donald Sterling for years. He is instrumental in bringing this franchise to where they have been, to their little golden era here over the last four or five years. It's coldhearted in that light, period. And I've already been hearing from people that Blake's not happy about this at all. I've already heard that, and from that standpoint there wasn't like there was a typical superstar conversation where you say, 'Hey, we respect everything you've done for us and we're thinking about shopping you. Do you have any places you'd like to go.' There is no way Detroit ever comes up in that scenario. And I challenge you this—$175 million or not—would you like to take the same salary and move halfway across the country, uprooting your family after living in one of America's premier cities for more than a decade? Would you really want to do that?
Sharp: Yes. And I'm not trying to be the Internet commenter who's like, 'Oh, he's making $25 million per year. I'd live with that.' I'm not trying to be that guy. I'm just saying this is not as egregious a situation as Isaiah Thomas with the Celtics, especially when you consider the context under which he signed that initial deal. I think if you're Blake, you have to be going in clear-eyed knowing that this is at least a possibility. I also just read that because of the new tax code and Michigan's 4% tax rate compared to California 13% tax rate, Blake is going to save a lot of money. So good news already. The Detroit era of his career is already off to a good start.