The flashy superstar that had long eluded the Detroit Pistons had arrived. This team wasn’t going to compete for championships, but they were expected to hang with the league’s top dogs so long as Griffin was there.
What became quickly apparent, though, was that the move was the last gasp for Van Gundy’s tenure. He was let go less than four months later after his team missed the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons were now hamstrung with limited draft capital and a low-floor roster.
Today, facing a lengthy rebuild that requires draft assets, the Detroit Pistons are posed with whether or not they can cut ties and trade Griffin or wait out the remaining two years of his gargantuan 5-year, $171 million contract.
But what was an appealing prospect three years ago is complicated today. Detroit would love to ship Griffin for anything, but will he have any suitors?
Since Griffin touched down in Detroit, in spite of the franchise’s struggles, he has demonstrated why he was a six-time All-Star and originator of Lob City. But Griffin could not escape the aging process. He dragged the Detroit Pistons to the playoffs on two bum knees in his first full season with them and hasn’t looked the same since.
Detroit Pistons: Can Blake Griffin be traded?
The degradation of his body has been rapid. In the 2020-21 season, Griffin is yet to record a dunk. He is posting career-low per-game totals in minutes, points, rebounds, and blocks.
A simple eye-test unearths the sad reality that Griffin does not possess the physicality he once had and is not contributing at the level his contract suggests. The most obvious illustration: Griffin’s usage rate has been at in the top 96th percentile every year of his career besides now, which is in the 74th percentile.
Griffin, then, has discovered new avenues to create value. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Griffin has adapted to his declining athleticism by taking almost 60 percent of his shots from 3-point range, where he is shooting an adequate 34 percent.
More often than not, Griffin has failed to recapture the magic that made him dominant. But while he has disappointed to start his third full season with the Pistons, that physical force is still there.
Take Thursday’s 107-92 victory over the defending-champion Lakers. The Athletic’s James Edwards noted a noticeable difference in Griffin’s pre-game routine.
Griffin obviously knew he had gas in the tank after two rest days. He was taking low-post entry passes and backing down LeBron James in the paint. He took it beyond the arc and hit five of 10 3-pointers. He ultimately finished with one of his most complete games of the year, notching 23 points and six assists in 35 minutes.
His body isn’t the same, but he is still a whip-smart player. And, evidently, he can harken back to his bounciest days when the occasion calls for it.
In his age-31 season, the range of outcomes with Griffin is volatile. But we know the highs can be high. The missing piece of the puzzle, though, is what a trade partner would look like.
Detroit Pistons: What team would trade for Blake Griffin?
The receiving team needs to meet certain criteria. They need to have tradable players that can eat Griffin’s salary and a legitimate role for him. Seems obvious, but the market dwindles significantly at Griffin’s price range.
The pool of suitors was small to begin with and has only shrunk as the season goes on. Mike Conley seemed like an option before he found enlightenment on the blazing Jazz. The Celtics’ frontcourt gap was filled and the money would be tough to configure anyway. The Hornets backed up a Brinks truck for Gordon Hayward.
It’s possible that Griffin can be dealt to another rebuilding team, depending on what the Pistons think their timeline is. If it is to be longer than expected, the Thunder could package Al Horford — who has three years remaining on his deal — and other pieces if they feel close to contention.
How badly do the Kings want to hold on to the remaining three years of Harrison Barnes’ lofty deal?
A contender could also be in the mix at the cost of one more year of Griffin’s contract. The Warriors have a gaping hole in their frontcourt and could offload Andrew Wiggins’ contract.
The options are limited, but a deal isn’t impossible. Griffin can contribute to a championship team, but the financial hurdle is tough to swallow. It is not the same commitment as Russell Westbrook or John Wall, though.
Thursday’s game may just be an aberration for Griffin. If so, an already-narrow trade market will vanish completely. But if it is not, Detroit might be able to orchestrate a deal. Crazier things have happened.
Trading Griffin may materialize into something more than wishful thinking.