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DBB on 3: The Blake Griffin Situation

Blake Griffin’s struggles this season are the elephant in the room. What can the Pistons do about it?

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

As the Detroit Pistons continue to flounder at the bottom of the NBA standings following Wednesday’s loss in Atlanta, chatter around Blake Griffin’s performance persists. Though Griffin is coming off one of his best games of the young season, his struggles and role have been a point of contention all year. The Detroit Bad Boys staff dove deeper:

1. Griffin had one of his saddest efforts of the season — 5 points (2/8 shooting) and 5 rebounds in 36 minutes — in Miami this week. With each game, it seems, last season’s awful performance is becoming less of an aberration. What are your overall thoughts on Blake through 14 games?

Laz Jackson: Obviously disappointment is the primary feeling. I think Blake is still learning how he can best impact a team offensively, and I’m sure he’s just as frustrated as we are that he’s physically incapable of doing things he once could. I’m overall pretty pleased, though, that he doesn’t seem AS interested in forcing things offensively. Jerami Grant’s ascension has undoubtedly helped with that, but he absolutely (and unjustly) could be demanding a larger role in the offense and hasn’t.

Defensively, of course, it’s been a nightmare for the coaching staff to cover for Blake schematically and a nightmare for his teammates to cover for him physically.

Sean Corp: Blake is still doing all the things you’d want out of your highest-paid player — leading, setting an example, communicating, trying to get others involved. But he’s been mostly awful on the court. In some ways, that doesn’t matter to me because the Pistons are going to lose, and this season losses are pretty much the preferred outcome. On the other hand, he sucks up tons of minutes. So it comes down to his presence being a barrier to the development of others. At this point, I’m not concerned. I can live with a season of maximum Blake, all the while hoping that he can somehow turn it around.

But, man, does he look completely overpowered on offense. He can’t even take advantage of physical mismatches of even the smallest defenders anymore. It’s sad to see. And his defense is typically so bad the team is forced to hide him on lesser players, which does not really speak to positive developments team-wide on that end of the floor. In the end, I don’t want him bench or released (yet). I’ll just take what comes and root for him, because he deserves better than this.

Brady Fredericksen: I said this as a joke before the season, but Blake looks a lot like Pistons-era Antonio McDyess. He’s lost his athleticism, he’s a jump shooter with limited movement, and unlike our beloved McDyess, he’s not able to just body up with other back-to-the-basket bigs down low. It’s a bummer watching him camped out on the perimeter, but his defense has been abhorrent. That’s the biggest basketball problem.

Ku Kahil: Blake’s body looks like it has taken every punch it could’ve taken, but is finally incapable of getting back up. It’s incredibly depressing to see this play out after what Griffin gave to the city in 2018-19, but it looks like Blake is all about done. Which, again, is incredibly sad to even type out.

Enbiejowiec: I hoped that he’ll be closer to 2018 Blake, but I was aware it could be like this. He still shows some flashes of that guy — a couple of drives here, a few plays from last night, good on-ball defense there, quick spin move in post somewhere else and a few plays from last game — but now… let’s say that I’m more skeptical that it turns fully into good old Blake. On the other hand, he still dives for the loose balls as if he was playing in championship games, he encourages Jerami Grant after games, he teaches the youngsters. In other words, he doesn’t gives us wins this season (which is something that is also to my liking) but what he’s doing in those moments could pay dividends in the future. And that is still great.

Sham Mohile: Blake looks about as expected for me — a player who formerly relied on his athleticism and strength to gain advantages on the hardwood. Offensively, he’s not as potent as he once was. Defensively, his inability to move laterally and stay in front of his defender has really exposed him: especially as the athleticism at the power forward spot has gotten better and better. I would hope that Griffin would look more like his 2018-19 self — dishing dimes to his teammates, limiting turnovers, and shooting the ball well from three. I’m not expecting him to replicate those numbers, but looking *somewhat* like that Blake Griffin would be desired at this point.

Ben Gulker: Father Time is undefeated. He got an assist from Blake’s injury two seasons ago, but unfortunately, all NBA careers end in some version of this scenario. The rapidity of the decline has been obviously accelerated by injury, but all athletes age like milk, not wine.

Chris Daniels: The second Heat game was the first time it truly hit me that he may really be done. Like a lot of us I had been making “well maybe” excuses since the preseason (maybe he’s letting the young guys have more shots, maybe he’s easing in slowly). I also kept hearing a Zach Lowe comment from before the draft in my head, where Lowe said he heard sources saying he looked like the old Blake. “Sources” must’ve been family relatives or his agent because he doesn’t look like his old self, he just looks old, and it sucks.

David Fernandez: I generally feel bad for Griffin when I see him on the floor now. He sacrificed his time, body, and remaining year and a half of his prime for the Pistons, and that’s all it amounted to was a third team All-NBA nod and a first round playoff exit. His poor play helps the tanking effort, so that’s good, but he’s also taking away playing time from either Sekou Doumbouya or Saddiq Bey on any given night. And while I understand why he gets more PT than Bey and Doumbouya, it’s still frustrating to see him, in his current state, play 32-plus minutes per game.

Scott Wickett: He’s washed. Also saying all the right things about helping the kids learn and grow, but mostly, he’s washed.

Justin Lambregetse: As much as it pains me to say it, I think he is washed. I will always appreciate how he embraced the city since getting traded here and the 2018-19 season was magical, but that Blake Griffin is gone and never coming back.

2. Heat broadcaster Eric Reid had some fun at Griffin’s expense throughout Monday’s loss in Miami. Griffin looked overmatched, though he rebounded nicely in Atlanta two nights later. Is this depleted version just the player he is now?

Laz Jackson: Blake put up 15/7/8 in the previous game against the Heat, one of the better performances he’s had all year. I don’t think Blake is going to put up five points every night, but yeah, he’s going to struggle more nights than he ever has in his career.

Sean Corp: It seems the answer is clearly yes. He just doesn’t have any explosion in his legs anymore and it’s creating all sorts of issues on both ends. If he can still shoot and remain crafty enough in the post to score a little and pass a lot, maybe he becomes OK on that end. But there are all kinds of old Blake tricks to get to the line and to score that seems like are no longer available to him. He has been off for a long time without basketball so maybe it’ll take months and months to ramp back up. But I’d put the odds of him improving significantly at less than 15%.

Brady Fredericksen: He was just plain terrible in that game. Reid said some pretty inaccurate things, but the moment that sticks out to me is when Blake had Duncan Robinson isolated. He couldn’t back him down, nor could he get around one of the league’s least talented defenders. The injuries have sapped him of what made him special, and I don’t think he’s quite adapted like he did when he carried the Pistons two years ago.

Ku Kahil: Reid should be ashamed of himself for what he said during their broadcast. Not only did he make multiple incorrect statements (Blake isn’t skilled, didn’t grow with the game), it was also incredibly disrespectful to say those things about someone like Blake who IS skilled and DID grow his game. Doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you have one leg it’s over.

When it comes to the question itself, I think it’s sad but the answer is yes. Maybe, just maybe, Griffin’s body responds and gradually gets better as he gets more time under his belt this season — but that’s being incredibly hopeful. No matter how much Blake wants to get back to where he was, it doesn’t look like his body is going to let him.

Enbiejowiec: I don’t care much about what Heat broadcasters have to say, except Ron Rothstein in the 30-for-30 film about the Bad Boys. Maybe Reid will understand it better when Adebayo or Butler will have to play on one knee.

As regards the question, I’d say ‘yes’, if not those flashes I mentioned earlier. With them, although I’m still leaning towards that answer, I’m also open for surprises, so I’ll abstain from a definite answer.

Sham Mohile: I really don’t take stock in anything other broadcasters have to say, especially Reid. I spent six years in Miami listening to Heat broadcasts... he doesn’t always have the most intelligent things to say. However, I do think he has a point. Griffin may just be this player going forward, but like I mentioned before there are areas of his game that I hope would improve. Shooting and passing out of the post are two areas that I hope improve as the season goes on. I don’t expect him to be anything better than he is now on defense due to his limitations because of his knee.

Ben Gulker: Apart from claiming Blake didn’t ever expand his game (he did, and we all saw it) it was the most honest assessment I’ve heard all season. 62% of Blake’s field goal attempts are three point shots. He isn’t beating anyone off the dribble. He struggles to post up wings. He can either barely move or just isn’t interested in moving on defense. If the extended time off between last season and this one wasn’t enough to recoup from injury, and it appears it wasn’t, yes, this is the player he is now.

Chris Daniels: It was probably hearing those comments one after another but that was just unprofessional to go over it so many times. It was like he was beating a dead... ah, yeah, bad choice there.

David Fernandez: It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Griffin magically turns it all around, although I am hoping he does — good BG is so much fun. He was injured for the majority of last season, but had an entire calendar year off in between games, so it’s not like he was rushed back into action. Maybe he focuses on strictly becoming a three-point threat? I don’t know, but his options seem limited at this point.

Scott Wickett: Yes.

Justin Lambregetse: Yeah, he was never a good defender, but now he can’t move, so he’s even worse. He can’t jump or move quickly offensively, so he is basically just a shooter now who can’t get lift on his shot, so his shot isn’t good anymore.

3. The idea has always been that Griffin will eventually play a lot, hopefully well enough that a contender would grow interested enough to trade for him. With two years and $75 million remaining on his contract, what does the immediate and long-term future of Blake look like?

Laz Jackson: This part is really in Blake’s hands. He really wants to win — according to that New York Times profile of him (he’s still got media clout) — but he and everybody else knows that winning is unlikely in the near term in Detroit. His final year is a player option — would he be willing to opt out of that final year to sign for less money (and a smaller role) with a team much closer to a championship? I think there’s a non-zero chance of this. Blake has made enough money (in salary and endorsements) to be set for life. $39 million is nothing to sneeze at, but if he doesn’t need it and it means more of a physical toll that has nothing to do with a championship, there’s a possibility he values the chance to win more than the money.

Sean Corp: Right now, he doesn’t look tradeable. That’s OK. The hope was always he’d be healthy enough to play his way into being a trade asset at the deadline and find himself in a winning situation. If that is off the table that leaves three potential outcomes. Blake plays well enough by the end of the year that he’s willing to pull a Gordon Hayward and gamble on himself and willing to take less money for a long-term deal that puts him in an ideal situation. Based on his injury history and current performance, that’s not looking super likely. The other option is he opts out or is bought out. A buy out seems like the most likely outcome going into next season. Third, he and the team ride together one final time. I’m hoping that last one doesn’t come to fruition. If he’s bought out, I imagine, the Pistons save a couple million dollars, not that it will matter, and he signs a minimum deal for a really good shot at a title. Here’s hoping his story ends well.

Brady Fredericksen: Nobody is trading for Blake. He’s getting bought out after next year’s trade deadline. Somebody will take a chance on him, but if his mobility is this limited, and it won’t get better with another year of wear and tear, I don’t see how any title contender can trust him on the floor in a playoff game. He’d get picked on defensively every single time down court. I know Blake has said he wants to win — and we all WANT him to win one — but I can’t see him sticking around to play 15-20 minutes per game for contenders. He’s had his eyes on an entertainment career for a long time, and with his Punk’d-esque show coming out on TruTV in March, I could easily see him giving it one last go next season before retiring. Blake’s got a lot of pride, does he want to stick around as a shell of himself?

Ku Kahil: There’s no immediate future. He’s staying on this team all year. The whole idea of possibly trading him at the deadline is dead. The only future involving Blake with the Pistons that I see, is one that includes him getting bought out after the 2022 trade deadline to play for a contender. Until then, Blake will remain a Detroit Piston.

Enbiejowiec: I think it depends on how fast our young forwards (and those we might pick in near future) will be ready to take the baton. I can see a scenario in which Blake still is playing some next year and a scenario in which he’s playing a veteran leadership role from the bench. I can also see a scenario in which his knee finally starts working and he end up on some contender. However, this is very indistinct view. Probably because it’s more a wishful thinking (for him, because he keeps proving even playing on one leg that he deserves another chance; and for us, because seeing what contenders give up for such players you can’t help but want something like this too) than scientific reasoning.

Sham Mohile: I was once of the opinion that Griffin would find his way out of Detroit, not because he doesn’t want to be here but because the timeline no longer fits his. I believe that ship has sailed though. Blake’s immediate future looks the way it does right now. He’ll get his starter minutes, but I seriously doubt he’ll return to 2018-19 form. As for the future, I could see Blake Griffin adopting the Chris Paul in OKC role where he’s a veteran presence who can build a culture and teach the young guys to play the right way. If a trade does surface for him, I imagine the Pistons would pull the trigger ASAP. This team doesn’t belong to him anymore, and I think very soon the Pistons will act like it.

Ben Gulker: He *is* playing a lot, over 32 minutes per game, so that part is going according to plan... but there’s no way he has value to a contender. Even if his on-court performance warranted acquisition (it doesn’t) his contract is an almost insurmountable obstacle. Laz brought up the best option I’ve heard in a recent podcast. Blake Griffin has made his millions, and his 21-22 contract is a player option. If Blake wants to compete before the end of his career in the situation of his choosing, he could decline that option and sign wherever he wants for the minimum. As an 18-24 minute a night bench guy who can pick and pop and pass? That might make a lot of sense to all involved.

Chris Daniels: The immediate future looks like Blake being the Emperor with no clothes. I mean we all see it but whether he, Casey, Gores, etc wants to actually admit it and he gets a more commensurate role is another thing entirely. Long term? Maybe the short term of limiting minutes actually gives a sliver of hope he doesn’t run himself further into the ground and he can have a few more years but currently it is not looking good. At all.

David Fernandez: Griffin finishes out his contract with the Pistons and either finds a way to become more productive on the floor, or gets relegated to spot minutes off the bench sometime next season. From there, I could see him signing onto a contender, and hopefully he’ll have some big minutes in a playoff game or series, but the Griffin of 2018-19 isn’t coming back.

Scott Wickett: Immediate: elite tanking weapon. Long-term: embarking on a new chapter, in the comedy game. I wish him all the best, and look forward to watching him star in Trainwreck 2.

Justin Lambregetse: The Pistons just have to ride out the contract at this point. Keep Blake happy and try to convince him to move to a lesser bench role next season as his knees continue to deteriorate. Maybe he will want a buyout so you can at least clear the roster spot next season.

As always, feel free to play along in the comments. We want to know how you feel about the Griffin situation.

1. Blake Griffin is coming off his saddest effort of the season — 5 points (2/8 shooting) and 5 rebounds in 36 minutes. With each game, it seems, last season’s awful performance is becoming less of an aberration. What are your overall thoughts on Blake through 13 games?

2. Heat broadcaster Eric Reid had some fun at Griffin’s expense throughout Monday’s loss in Miami. Griffin looked overmatched, but is this just the player he is now?

3. The idea has always been that Griffin will eventually play a lot, hopefully well enough that a contender would grow interested enough to trade for him. With two years and $75 million remaining on his contract, what does the immediate and long-term future of Blake look like?