This past offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers and Blake Griffin agreed to a five-year, $171 million contract.
Just seven months later, the Clippers’ homegrown star would be on the first private jet to Detroit in a trade that sends shockwaves across the NBA.
On the night of Jan. 29, the Clippers traded five-time All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, along with two-year veteran center Willie Reed and 2016 first-round pick Brice Johnson, to the Detroit Pistons for small forward Tobias Harris, shooting guard Avery Bradley, center Boban Marjanovic and first and second-round draft pick compensation.
The clear face of the Clippers’ franchise following Chris Paul’s departure this past summer, Blake Griffin has enjoyed individual success on the court this season, averaging 22.6 points per game, a total which stands above his career average, according to espn.com. However, the middling Clippers sit in ninth place in the Western Conference, looking at the playoff picture from the outside. As a result, Clippers management felt the need to make a bold move to right the ship this season and keep an eye on the future of the franchise.
Griffin’s official statement reflects the shortcomings of the Clippers during his nine-year tenure with the team. While it is true that the team endured a massive overhaul, transitioning from a joke franchise to a respectable team during Griffin’s time with the squad, the Clippers failed to make significant noise during the playoffs over this period. As such, in his official statement regarding the trade, the former Oklahoma University standout asserts, “From being a #1 pick to Lob City to six straight Playoff appearances, I am so proud of the success of the Clippers organization.” He indirectly hints at the fact that the Clippers failed to earn any silverware or even become a true threat to the Western Conference hierarchy. While the flashiness of Griffin’s highlight reel dunks and backboard-punishing alley-oops will be missed in Los Angeles, “long-term hopes for anything beyond the second round of the playoffs demanded [this trade]” said the LA Times. Likewise, Griffin “was fun… but as a foundation, he was shaky,” according to the LA Times.
After Chris Paul, who finished ninth in the NBA with a 26.25 player efficiency rating last season, made his way out of Los Angeles to join forces with James Harden, the Clippers were stuck with a dilemma, according to espn.com. As the Clippers couldn’t truly contend with the Western Conference elite with Paul, how would they be able to dethrone the kings of the West without Paul? As Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke summarized bluntly, “once the Big Three [Paul, Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan] became the Big Two, the Clippers’ chances of contending became a Big Fat Zero, and Griffin should have been allowed to walk.” Perhaps as a means of maintaining an aura of stability, to justify rising ticket prices and the construction of a new arena, however, the Clippers felt the need to solidify their grasp on their superstar, ultimately signing Griffin to the aforementioned five-year contract during the summer, according to the LA Times.
With new front office hires Jerry West and Lawrence Frank now taking the wheel (or at least whispering increasingly loudly in owner Steve Ballmer’s ear), this perception of stability would be cut down in favor of achieving material success on the court. According to Plaschke, “although Griffin was their guy, he could never be The Guy, so kudos to them for swallowing their egos, shipping him off to Detroit for moves that could eventually land them that guy.”
The Griffin trade opens up the possibility for the future face of the franchise to come to the team in one of the next two free-agent classes (intriguing options include Paul George this summer and Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson the following period). The Guy might also find his way to the Staples Center through the draft, as the Clippers have two potential top 10 picks, their first opportunity to “make a real draft impact,” since drafting Griffin almost a decade ago, according to the LA Times.
With the Clippers sitting outside the playoffs in the Western Conference, it remains to be seen whether this blockbuster trade will improve or worsen their current playoff aspirations. More importantly are the effects of this trade on the Clippers’ future. After all, as Plaschke puts it, the Clippers “no longer need someone who can jump over cars. They need somebody to drive one.” If and when they find their man, the Clippers will be primed to escape the long-term mediocrity they are trapped in.