- The Clippers served up a surprising start to the NBA trade deadline, dealing Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. What domino will fall next?
Trade Deadline Season kicked off early this year, as the Clippers pulled off the first blockbuster of 2018, sending Blake Griffin and Willie Reed to the Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, draft picks, and some Hot-N-Ready pizzas to be named later. It’s an intriguing move for Los Angeles, who appears to be trying to rebuild on the fly as opposed to a full-on tank. With the way Doc Rivers has been coaching this season, the Clips could very well still threaten for the final playoff spot in the West. Meanwhile, the Pistons have been on a slide, but Griffin’s talent could be enough to vault them into the postseason amid the flotsam that is the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the trade’s reverberations will also be felt throughout the league, as the falling off the Griffin domino could weirdly have far-reaching consequences for teams thousands of miles away. I’m really just reading some tea leaves and wildly speculating here, but here’s how the Griffin-to-Pistons trade could influence the rest of the deadline—and it starts with Blake’s former frontcourt running mate.
Will the Clippers still trade DeAndre? I’m not sure if there’s a move for them that makes sense. The combination of teams that a) need a center and b) can offer Los Angeles attractive assets is slim. I think the Jordan-for-Hassan Whiteside swap that The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported makes less sense now, because Whiteside will eat up cap space through 2020. Because of Jordan’s large salary, L.A. can’t simply dump him for a pick somewhere. It may make the most sense for the Clips to hold on to Jordan and let him opt out this summer, because then they can retain the most flexibility. If you’re Jerry West, would you rather start building cap space for the LeBron and Kawhi summers? Or would you rather have a back-half-of-the-first draft pick and some non-stars eating into your cap? I would go with the former, especially if you still want to keep around capable, younger guys in Bradley and Harris—the kind of players who are at least somewhat appealing to free agents.
Lou Williams and his $7 million salary, on the other hand, will be much more moveable and could very well net a low first.
If Jordan comes off the market, does Whiteside become the best center available? Would the Bucks and Cavs kick the tires on him? I’m not sure if it’s necessarily probable, but Hassan—who has been as rollercoastery as ever this season—becomes more likely to be moved if the Clips decide to stand pat on Jordan.
Jordan was never going to make the Cavs title favorites, but he could have helped their defense go from laughable to passable. If L.A. doesn’t want to take on Cleveland’s multi-year deals during its rebuild, Jordan won’t be running with LeBron. James is reportedly already frustrated with the Cavs front office for striking out on Paul George and Eric Bledsoe in the summer, so it probably won’t sit well with him if the team can’t bring in more help at the deadline. (That rumored George Hill deal is also reportedly facing issues.) I’m not saying the Blake trade is the start of events that will push James out of Cleveland. But... it’s possible the consequences give James another nudge.
If word gets out the Cavs are struggling to make trades, it could signal other East teams to make one last move to put them over the top. Toronto hasn’t been afraid to tinker with its roster at previous deadlines, and Masai Ujiri has two big trade exceptions to play with. The Raptors, thanks to the departures of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph, can absorb contracts worth around $11 million or $7 million without having to send anyone out. Maybe Toronto can bolster its playoff rotation with Joe Johnson? (Iso Joe has been pretty rough this year, though.) What about Austin Rivers? If the Cavs are forced to be passive, the rest of the East should be more aggressive. This season is the conference’s best chance at toppling LeBron. (Update: WELL ACTUALLY, Toronto is hard-capped, so they’re a little restricted in the moves they can make. Life is basically one, big hard cap.)
Lastly, the Blake trade is going to be a little bit of a wake-up call for other stars around the league without a no-trade clause. The price of acquiring a star has seemingly gone down, with Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Griffin all being moved in the last year for less than expected, though each had their unique reasons why. A Griffin trade was always logical, but also felt far off after the way L.A. recruited him back to the team in the summer. The trade, in the public eye at least, materialized quickly, not unlike the way Kyrie Irving-to-the-Celtics happened last August.
So who’s next? If the Raptors can’t make any noise in May and June, do DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry become available? Are the Wizards completely satisfied with the John Wall-Brad Beal-Otto Porter core? Can Portland ever be title contenders with a Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt?
With the Warriors’ stranglehold on the West and superstar movement shifting toward trades instead of free agency, more shake-ups could easily be on the way. The Griffin trade is only the first domino in what has the potential to be a memorable trade deadline.