What the Blake Griffin deal means for the future of the Detroit Pistons

Clippers, Pistons complete blockbuster deal ahead of deadline

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts after he fouled out against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts after he fouled out against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons have added five-time all-star forward Blake Griffin in a surprise blockbuster deal Monday night with the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the deal, the Pistons sent two starters - Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris, backup center Boban Marjanovic and a future protected first-round draft choice and a future second-round draft choice to the Clippers in exchange for Griffin and two other players.

Griffin will join Detroit as its second star players, along with Andre Drummond. So, the Pistons have two surefire stars in the starting lineup - but what does it all mean?

Related: Blake Griffin tweets message after being traded to Detroit

The Pistons starting lineup, when healthy, will likely look like this:

  • Point guard, Reggie Jackson
  • Shooting guard, Luke Kennard
  • Small forward, Stanley Johnson
  • Power forward, Blake Griffin
  • Center, Andre Drummond

This lineup is probably a playoff lineup, but is it enough to contend for actual accomplishments? Does it set the Pistons up for sustainable success in the future?

Related: 4 interesting facts about new Pistons star Blake Griffin

Griffin signed a five-year deal that pays him about $35 million per year last summer, which means the Pistons could end up paying Griffin and Drummond a combined $70 million per year.

ESPN's Zach Lowe says the Griffin move could move the Pistons into what he calls "super-mediocrity" - here's what he wrote:

The Pistons got the best player in this trade. Griffin has played his entire NBA career with a Drummond-esque rim-running center, though Drummond is a way better passer (and worse defender) than DeAndre Jordan. They can fit. But Detroit risks paying a ton of money to mimic the Chris Paul-Griffin-Jordan triptych, though with Reggie Jackson in the role of Chris Paul. Gulp. There is more to this for Detroit -- we'll get there -- but it is almost impossible to see any path to anything above a kind of "super-mediocrity" topping out around 50 wins.

And it's important to remember: maybe super-mediocrity, with multiple playoff appearances in the middle of the Eastern Conference, is OK for the Pistons. They have obviously considered that endgame. They are struggling to fill a new arena, at risk of missing the playoffs for a second straight season. Being the Joe Johnson-era Hawks might be a great outcome for them.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated gives Detroit an A- on the deal:

Although Griffin may not be too happy about this change of area code after spending his entire career with the Clippers and being pitched by the franchise in free agency on leaving a legacy as a lifelong member of the team. Well, that’s out the window and blowing around on Sunset Boulevard. For the Pistons, who are rarely players for star free agents and have been hovering around the middle to low end of the East for much of the last decade, it’s a declaration of immediate intent. Detroit has been sitting on the cusp, and going for it with Griffin will ultimately make or break Stan Van Gundy's tenure with the team. 

Another concern for the Pistons is Griffin's history of injuries. The all-star has had recurring knee problems. After being drafted first overall by the Clippers in 2009, Griffin broke his kneecap and missed the entire season. 

Since then, Griffin has missed numerous games with an array of injuries, including a broken hand, broken toe, a concussion and a torn left quad.

The bright side for the Pistons is Griffin is definitely something - a superstar on and off the court. The addition of Griffin will fill seats at Little Caesars Arena, it'll sell jerseys, and it'll keep the Pistons relevant for at least some of the foreseeable future.

Over his seven-year career, into his eighth, Griffin has average nearly a double-double, with 21 points and 9 rebounds per game.

Griffin is an average free throw shooter who has improved almost every year since joining the NBA. He's also developed a three-point shot, which has also steadily improved.

Lowe writes that the Pistons almost needed to make this move, regardless of outcome:

The Pistons are not a destination under any circumstance. That's why they made this deal, and almost every deal of the Stan Van Gundy regime. Bradley was out the door once they faded from playoff contention. They faced the possibility of paying Harris big money after next season. They could have let both walk and freed up cap space, but that space has less value to the Pistons than it does for at least 20 of 30 NBA teams.

Through that lens, Detroit traded a first-round pick and some cap space that wouldn't net anything better for a star. They are starved for playmaking with Jackson out, and they acquired one of the greatest passing big men ever. Drummond is dishing about four assists per 36 minutes -- a monster number for a center. They will work some big-to-big magic in the half court. Griffin will catch the ball on the move at the foul line, spot Drummond's defender inching up to help, and toss soft lobs -- the same dance he mastered with Jordan to the point that he could (almost literally) go through it with his eyes closed.

It's true that if the Pistons were to miss the playoffs again - given all of the moves Stan Van Gundy has made - his job would be on thin ice, at least with fans. The Griffin move could buy Van Gundy a bit more time.

“We are serious about winning, and this is a major move to improve our team,” said Pistons owner Tom Gores. “Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s elite players, and when you get an opportunity to add that kind of talent, you take it."

The trade did create a $7 million trade exception for the Pistons. They have a full year to use it. 

Also, worth noting, the NBA trade deadline is on Feb. 8, which means the Pistons could still be dealing. Giving up Bradley and Harris leaves a huge depth hole for a team that was already short due to injuries.

Another result of the trade is the thrusting of Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson into more key roles in the starting lineup. 

Kennard has shown some bright spots with extended playing time due to injuries, while Stanley Johnson has struggled to stay on the court. The Pistons are betting big on two of their young, recent draft picks. The Griffin trade is a signal to them to step up - it's time.

The Pistons are back in action Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena against the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they look to snap an eight-game losing streak. Griffin is not expected to play.

Griffin, along with Willis Reed and Brice Johnson, who were also sent to Detroit, will likely debut on Thursday in Detroit against Memphis.  The Pistons also play the Clippers in Detroit on Feb. 9. 

It's also worth reminding everyone that Blake Griffin once jumped over a car to win the NBA Slam Dunk contest.

Detroit Pistons legend Chauncey Billups appeared on ESPN Monday night to talk about the trade - having played for both Detroit and the Clippers.

Billups said he's happy for the Pistons, but was surprised the Clippers moved on from Griffin.

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