It’s been a weird 24 hours to say the least. The dust has now settled and Blake Griffin, formerly of Lob City, a five-time All Star, and stand up comedian, is now a Detroit Piston. It’s real. I may or may not have received more tweets and texts about this news than the birth of my son. The messages were a mix of questions, roasts, and commiseration, but funny enough, they all had one thing in common: they started the exact same way.
The question mark says a lot. To me, it speaks to not only how surprising this move was but also to where Blake’s game has progressed and his standing in the minds of your average NBA fan. Subconsciously, it’s saying what I’m going to explain in way too many words this post. That this trade was a failure for Stan Van Gundy, Jeff Bower, and the rest of the Detroit Pistons franchise. And to be even more honest, it’s a huge, franchise-altering mistake.
Now for a sentence you might not expect: Blake Griffin is a top 30 NBA player. He may not be dunking over KIA’s anymore but he has managed to transform his game into something resembling a very impactful shooter and facilitator over the past few years.
On the surface you will think that Blake makes a ton of sense for the Pistons. He’s used to playing next to a big who’s game is centered around rebounding and dunking. His mid-range shot has become reliable and he is shooting more three pointers than ever before. This could be the stretch four Stan Van Gundy has long needed, and even an interesting small five to run out with the second unit.
But this Pistons team already had spacing issues, because of their lack of shooters in the backcourt, a problem that has only been exacerbated recently with Reggie Jackson’s injury. While the Pistons are a top five team in terms of three point percentage, it’s more likely that high because we’re 18th in three point attempts per game.
Trading away the solid three point shooting of Tobias Harris (40.3 percent) this year along with Avery Bradley (38.1 percent) for a power forward averaging 34 percent from deep and taking 5.7 per game, more than Kevin Love or Ryan Andreson, is something that should only hurt these numbers.
This move will also require Kennard to get more minutes likely as a starter and will require Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock to step up with their offensive abilities. My fear is that this is asking too much too soon for Kennard, and I’m unsure of whether Stanley or Bullock will ever be what we need them to be.
Not to mention that Blake this season has had the highest usage rate of his career at 29.4 percent with the second lowest net rating of his career at 0.8. If that’s what he looks like without Chris Paul, I’m not sure Reggie Jackson’s style of play is going to help those numbers.
The real reason this trade is such a disaster for the Pistons is what it does to the payroll for the four years. Blake Griffin is in year one of a $171 million contract he signed with the Clippers last summer, where they famously pitched him on retiring with the Clippers and being a cornerstone of their franchise legacy (LOL). He’s 29 years old, exiting the window of a players basketball prime, with knees that may or may not be made out of glass. He hasn’t played in more than 67 games a year since the 2013-14 season. In the year 2020 the Pistons will have over $90 MILLION in Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Jon freaking Leuer (as of right now) and the ghost of Josh Smith.
With all that money tied up, we better be building depth through the draft, right?
Oh yeah we traded a 2018 first rounder and a 2019 second rounder too.
Admittedly, the picks I have softened on, especially the 2018 pick being top four protected. This is looking like a very very weak draft class and anything outside of the top 4 I am comfortable losing. But still, this trade screams “I’ve screwed up every draft since I got to Detroit minus Luke Kennard and now I am going to die on this hill with Blake and a KIA.” For us fans to be dragged into this situation is unsettling in so many ways.
This trade is like reaching the five star wanted level in Grand Theft Auto. There’s no escaping for the Pistons. This franchise is going to eventually be wasted.
Make no mistake, as Tom “Tony Perkins” Gores alluded to in his tweet last night, this was a move to “win now.” But win what? The first round of the playoffs?
This was like Stan Van Gundy added a sunroof to my car and now wants to tell me it’s a convertible. Our team is only getting older while other small markets are looking to get younger. If this doesn’t work out, which has a higher likelihood of happening, the Pistons are now four years behind other franchises.
And perhaps my biggest issue with all of this is that it was in a way unavoidable because of Stan’s position as both head coach and president of basketball operations. With Stan Van Gundy in year four of his five year deal, the coach and president of basketball operations had no choice but to go all in.
Having only one playoff appearance thus far, and that being a competitive sweep at the hands of the eventual championship Cavs, he had to shoot his shot this deadline to save his job. His contract wasn’t conducive to long-term, big picture thinking for the Pistons franchise, and that’s why every fan should be as livid as I am about this trade.
Look, I really hope I’m wrong. I hope Blake Griffin fits into Stan’s system better than I or any other critic expects. I hope the Pistons are a more competitive playoff team because of this and begin competing with the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. If that becomes the case, I will be the first blogger on this site to put my tail between my legs (and keyboard) and write an apology.
The Pistons made a big move this trade deadline, and I fear that the consequences will be even bigger for the franchise’s future.