What the Blake Griffin Trade Means for the Clippers and Pistons

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Blake Griffin is headed to Detroit, where he’ll team up with Andre Drummond. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Admit it: You were worried.

You watched 51 days elapse with no transactional movement in the wake of the Brooklyn Nets’ acquisition of Jahlil Okafor from the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 7, and inevitably feared that the N.B.A.’s 2018 trade deadline would be a snoozer.

And then, without warning, the N.B.A. did what it does best.

The Los Angeles Clippers roused the basketball world out of its personnel slumber Monday night, with slightly more than a week to go before the Feb. 8 trade buzzer, by coming to terms on a blockbuster swap with the Detroit Pistons that sends their rugged big man and marketing darling Blake Griffin to Motown.

It’s a monstrous midseason gamble for the Pistons’ coach and team president Stan Van Gundy, who is trying to arrest Detroit’s ongoing 8-20 swoon and keep hold of his job. Yet it might actually be an even bigger deal for the Clippers, who just followed up last June’s breakup with Chris Paul by dealing away their other face of the franchise only seven months after bestowing a five-year contract worth nearly $175 million upon Griffin.

And here’s what it really means: L.A.’s new front-office voices — most notably the legendary Jerry West — convinced the Clippers’ ring-hungry owner, Steve Ballmer, that they have a real shot to force their way into the free-agent mix this summer for Paul George and (gasp) even LeBron James. All they had to do was jettison Griffin and create some more salary-cap flexibility.

Multiple league insiders said Monday night that the Clippers aim to keep trying to create salary-cap space for this July — enough for multiple maximum contracts if everything falls just right — through potential trades headlined by DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, both of whom (as we recently reported) are coveted by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But the Clippers’ worst-case scenario isn’t bad, either, thanks to Griffin’s sudden departure. In the event that they can’t create sufficient salary-cap space to make credible bids for James and/or George in July, they’ll still be on course to have major cap space in the summer of 2019 to go with the two quality assets acquired from Detroit in this trade: Tobias Harris and the Pistons’ increasingly attractive first-round pick in June.

Source: The New York Times