According to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the LA Clippers are among several contending teams interested in signing free agent forward Blake Griffin, who recently completed a buyout with the Detroit Pistons. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the buyout.
According to Wojarowski, the veteran forward is expected to have conversations with interested teams in the coming days before making a decision. The 31-year-old Griffin, who will turn 32 later this month, has had egregious problems remaining healthy in recent years, playing just 49 games/season for the five years prior to this one. Last month, Griffin and the Pistons mutually agreed that he wouldn’t play again for the team and instead work on a trade or buyout. Notably, the Clippers did not appear on Wojnarowski’s (partial) list of suitors:
But with a $36.6M salary for this season and a $39M salary next season, and his performance dropping off just as precipitously as his availability, a trade was never likely to happen. In fact, I’m fascinated to see exactly how much of his remaining guaranteed money Griffin relinquished to the Pistons in order to reach free agency. After the Clippers traded Blake in 2018, he had a triumphant first full season in Detroit, playing in 75 games and averaging a career-high 24.5 points to go with 7.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 36.2% from three on 7 attempts per game. But he was dreadful in just 18 appearances in 2019-20, putting up 15.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting 35.2% from the field and 24.3% from deep. In 20 appearances for Detroit this year, his play was equally miserable: 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 36.5% from the field, 31.5% from deep–and with over half of his shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. Robbed of his athleticism by injuries, Griffin settled in as a low-efficiency three-point shooter on offense, and his always-poor defense became compounded by his reduced mobility to produce truly awful play on that end.
On the one hand, Griffin is undeniably going to be seen as one of the top targets for every contending team this buyout season due to his undeniable talent. There really hasn’t been much to like from him since the 18-19 season, but if the cost is only a roster spot and a rest-of-season minimum deal, there’s little downside to bringing in a veteran with 50 games of NBA playoff experience. In all likelihood, he doesn’t have much left to contribute at the NBA level–even in a reduced role, he really didn’t show any signs in Detroit of being to approach rotation quality on either end of the floor. But your 15th guy isn’t going to play much anyway, and if he does somehow take his skillset and evolve as a role player within his new post-injury limitations, Blake brings a much higher ceiling than other forward who will be available around this time of year.
For the Clippers, though, so much of that ceiling is offensive that it’s worth wondering whether or not Blake is the best fit for what this roster needs. Yes, the Clippers have struggled to generate good shots late in games recently (though even in his prime, Blake was infamous for dribbling off his foot on crucial possessions), but they ultimately still possess a historic offense… and a below-average defense, one that gets even worse when injuries force them away from their trustworthy wing/forward combinations featuring Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris. What the Clippers really need is another body at 4 (or 3/4) who can come in and stabilize lineups defensively so that their backup guards–Lou Williams, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard–can bring the offense without getting buried on the other end.
For Griffin, his real role is likely going to be as a bench center, not a power forward. Playing at the 5, his mobility defensively can be hidden (a little) more effectively (though teams will still put him in pick-and-rolls), and his perimeter skillset on offense will force opposing backup centers into uncomfortable positions defensively. We saw last year, however, how hard it can be to “hide” an awful backup center on defense. The Clippers do need a third string center, but again, they’re probably in greater need of defensive stability than another option to create shots (which Blake hasn’t even been great at lately). The Clippers also don’t seem likely to offer Blake guaranteed minutes at either position, considering the varying roles and contributions of Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka, and Ivica Zubac at the PF and C positions. Other teams with greater frontcourt depth needs (like the Brooklyn Nets, who play 4 guards most of the time) might offer Griffin clearer paths to playing time.
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