LOS ANGELES – The Blake Griffin Era ended like a Hemingway bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters Tuesday that the blockbuster trade that abruptly sent Griffin to the Pistons on Monday had unfolded rapidly in recent days, but that the move—which returned Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and draft picks—could be traced back to past postseason disappointments.
“[The trade] came out of nowhere and it came pretty quick,” said Rivers, during a pre-game press conference. “We hadn’t been talking about it that long...Everybody [in the front office] was involved. Nothing really has changed about how we discuss trades at all. [President] Lawrence [Frank], [GM] Michael [Winger], that whole group. They bring [the idea] to myself. [Consultant] Jerry [West] is involved as well. We all discuss it. That’s how we do things.”
Rivers, the Clippers’ coach since 2013, saluted Griffin’s impact on the organization. Selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin’s immediate development into a high-flying All-Star and his pairing with All-Star point guard Chris Paul transformed the Clippers from the NBA’s biggest laughingstock into a perennial 50+ win playoff contender. Indeed, Griffin was a member of the five winningest teams in the Clippers’ franchise history, which dates to 1971, and played for teams that made the playoffs six straight years from 2012 to 2017.
“I really believe [the Clippers’ history] is pre-Blake and post-Blake,” Rivers said. “Before Blake came here, this wasn’t a great franchise as far as basketball. But once Blake got here, [Paul] followed, [DeAndre Jordan] and all those guys. That’s when this team was a franchise that you talked about. Blake is responsible for all of that. … I really enjoyed coaching him. I found out things about him I didn’t know as a player. His passing. I never knew he was [such a good] passer and playmaker.”
Despite those successes, Rivers acknowledged that the Griffin/Paul Clippers will likely be defined by their postseason failures and shortcomings. In the 2014 Western Conference semis, the Clippers were tied 2-2 with the Thunder, only to collapse badly in Game 5 and lose the series in six games. The next year, the Clippers were up 3-1 on the Rockets in the West semis before losing three straight games in stunning fashion. In both 2016 and 2017, the Clippers lost first-round series to less experienced opponents—Portland and Utah—with Griffin dropping out early due to season-ending injuries.
“We will all have the regret of not winning it [all], or not even going to the Western finals,” Rivers said. “We had our two chances for sure. The Oklahoma [City] series, I thought, was the beginning of the end when something like that happens. And then the Houston debacle. Both of those were very difficult for us. After that, we had a lot of injuries. We had our shot, we didn’t come through.
“We had a nice run. ... We won [50+] games every year. You have multiple All-Stars. You’re an exciting team to watch. But our goal was to win a title. That’s the only down part of this. We were fun, we were exciting, but we didn’t get it done. All of us didn’t get it done.”
Rivers said that he spoke with Griffin on Monday to inform the five-time All-Star forward of the trade, but that they didn’t engage in any meaningful conversation.
“We talked right afterwards but we didn’t go sit down,” Rivers said. “When you make trades, guys aren’t very happy. It’s tough. I’ve been traded at least twice, maybe three times. When you’re traded and you’re somewhere for a long time, that’s hard. I played for the Hawks for eight years. They called me in, I thought they were giving me an extension and they told me I was traded. That hurts.”
Griffin, who will wear No. 23 for the Pistons after sporting No. 32 for the Clippers, wrote on Instagram that he “needed a night to digest and reflect on what happened” but that he was “so proud to be a part of the success of the Clippers organization.” The former Slam Dunk Contest champion added that he was “forever grateful to the city [of LA] for embracing me.”
The Clippers’ post-Griffin era opens on Tuesday against the Blazers. LA enters the contest with a 25-24 record, sitting a half-game back of the West’s No. 8 seed. While Rivers didn’t rule out any additional trades in advance of the Feb. 8 trade deadline, he insisted that the Clippers weren’t planning for a tank down the stretch and he praised Harris’ ability to create mismatches and Bradley’s on-ball defense. Meanwhile, center DeAndre Jordan and guard Lou Williams have both been mentioned in trade rumors in recent weeks.
“I don’t know [if there will be more moves,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows. Right now, we’re pretty much done. But that doesn’t mean [that you’re done ‘forever’]. There’s [nine] days left [until the trade deadline]. This team has not changed its goals about the playoffs. That’s our goal.”