On this week’s Crossover pod, Mannix and Beck discuss the Celtics' sluggish play, whether injuries are the biggest reason for it, what kinds of changes Danny Ainge can make before the trade deadline, how much blame should be leveled at Brad Steven—and whether the Celtics are really tuning him out—and more. Plus, a look at the suddenly scorching Suns and how aggressive Phoenix should be before the trade deadline, how concerned the Lakers should be about the health of Anthony Davis, the trade market for Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, and more. And is the NBA prepared for the nightmare scenario: players testing positive for COVID-19 ahead of an All-Star weekend many still believe shouldn’t be taking place? Make sure you subscribe, rate and review the pod on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.
Chris Mannix: Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. It seems like both Detroit and Cleveland are looking to move on from those players. There's a mutual understanding, it seems, between Griffin and the Pistons, that Griffin will, they'll find a way to get him to another location, whether it's a trade or a contract buyout. It's a little bit different between Drummond and the Cavaliers. Drummond doesn't seem to be on board with this plan for the Cavs, but the Cavs have clearly decided that Jarrett Allen is their starting center and they're going to build around him. Drummond, of course, is in the last year of his contract.
Let's start with Griffin. I don't see any way that he is tradable at this point. He is owed the rest of the $39 million on his contract, $39 million next year in the last year of his deal. I don't know who's out there that has that kind of flexibility in terms of cap space or movable contracts. I guess you could flip him for Russell Westbrook, but that doesn't do anything I think, for either team. Start with Griffin. How do you think that plays out?
Howard Beck: Let's start with this Chris, there is no trade. Let's not even pretend. Don't crank up the trade machine, folks. Don't start trying to figure out matching salaries, it's just not happening. At least with the case of Westbrook and John Wall, they were still functioning high-level players, albeit not as good as they used to be. But you could swap them for each other and both teams could do O.K. There's nothing you can trade for Blake Griffin or would want to trade for Blake Griffin to acquire a guy who is going to be making $39 million next year on his player option that he will certainly pick up. And though he's still young in real years—he's turning 32 in March—he looks a lot closer to the end than that. And that's going to be a big part of this, too.
I talked to a scout yesterday after this news came out, and the scout was admittedly harsh, but I think this is a realistic view of Blake Griffin. He says, "I hate watching him. He looks like he's shot," he says. "I wouldn't say he's finished, but he's coming to the end." And the caveat from the scout—and I would add this caveat five times over myself—is, it's hard to properly evaluate Blake Griffin at this stage while also with this team. The Pistons were going younger, they're moving on. It's a new administration, new front office. And so, is Blake Griffin as locked in, as energized in Detroit as he might be with a different team, especially a contending team? So even with the possibility that there is another gear left or a second wind in him ... After all the injuries he's had—knees and all the lower extremities ... He's not the same Blake Griffin. He hasn't dunked in over a year. He can still do some things, Chris. And that's the thing.
It'll be a buyout. This is a given. It'll be a buyout at some point. When they get to that stage, and he's a free agent, he's still a guy who is a really smart player, who has become a really great playmaker late in his career, a great passer out of the post and on the perimeter, who can still get by some guys, can knock down a jumper and has a little bit of range. So I think he can be a useful player—a rotation guy. But not a starter on a good team, likely a bench guy. And we can talk about possible destinations, but I think there are a few times that could use him.
Mannix: Hold on, hold on. Before we get to the possible destinations, I agree; no trade. A buyout, however, those negotiations would be fascinating because like on the open market, Blake Griffin, what's he worth? Like, something above the veterans minimum probably? But he's 31. His athleticism, as you pointed out, has waned. He's shooting 31% from three this year. That is actually a market improvement from the 24% from three shot in 18 games last season. There's not a lot of money out there for that. Even within the same hemisphere of the money he's making right now. Do you think Blake Griffin wants out of Detroit that bad that he would leave ... I don't know how much money it would take. Or does Detroit say, look, you're going to have to take a steep pay cut, or else we'll just bench you and make you a super sub.
Beck: See, that's the thing. I think the Pistons have to be careful here because at some point the union could get involved. We saw this years ago with Stephon Marbury when Mike D'Antoni arrived and D'Antoni decided, I just don't even want you here in my rotation. And Marbury says, I'm not taking a nickel less than what I'm owed. And there was a standoff for a long time. It eventually got resolved. He did take much more than a nickel less to get out from under it. But he got his freedom and the Knicks got a tiny cost savings.
The Pistons and Troy Weaver have made a decision already. By pulling the plug on Blake Griffin and saying, we want to work to get you somewhere else. They know in the back of their minds that a trade is almost impossible. They know that at some point this probably comes to a buyout. And yeah, you're not going to negotiate Blake Griffin down to $20 million instead of $39 million for next season. And by the way, any time a player is weighed with that kind of money and a player option, the player option automatically kicks in. So they're definitely on the hook for that $39 [million] or a negotiated-down version of it. But they want to move on, and Blake Griffin clearly wants to move on. Somewhere in there, maybe it's giving back a couple million. It's not going to be a lot.
Detroit's not going to save much, but Detroit was not going to get those cost savings anyway by holding onto him and having him activate his option after the season. So they were going to be over the barrel money-wise anyway. They're rebuilding anyway. They're not going anywhere next year anyway. They're not in free agency this summer anyway. The cap room is almost irrelevant. I can't negotiate for them or for Blake Griffin; his representation will do a fine job of that themselves. But if they shave a couple million off and it at least gives the Pistons a slight amount of relief, then he goes and he signs somewhere for the veterans minimum. That to me is how this is going to play out.
Find recent episodes on SI.com