The Blake Griffin era in Detroit is over, and it is ending in about as unceremonious a fashion as could be believed. Injuries have robbed Griffin of his explosiveness and the lift on his jump shot. More importantly for both Griffin and the rebuilding Pistons, it has also robbed Griffin of any semblance of trade market.
So it is with resignation and understanding that I saw the news that both player and team had mutually agreed to sideline Griffin while the Pistons brass works on a trade or, barring that, a buyout that allows Griffin to sign on with a contender on his own terms, if one will have him.
The news brings a lot of important questions to the forefront, and I’ve tried to anticipate and compile as many of the key questions being tossed around.
How much is Blake Griffin owed?
Blake Griffin makes $36.8 million this year and has a player option for $38.9 million next year.
If the Pistons waive Griffin, are they on the hook for next year’s salary?
Yes. If a team waives a player, any player option is automatically triggered, and the Pistons would be on the hook for Griffin’s full $38.9 million salary.
Is there a trade market for Griffin?
No. I’m sure a lot of teams respect Blake Griffin, and I’m sure a few of those teams would even entertain the idea of adding Griffin, even in his diminished state, onto their roster to continue a playoff push. But finding a team that is interested in Blake the player and the ability to match his salary is likely impossible.
The Detroit Pistons love waiving and stretching players, can they just do that again?
Luckily, the answer seems to be no. The Pistons already have roughly $4 million in dead cap space following the waive and stretch of Dewane Dedmon and Zhaire Smith this offseason. The CBA says teams can only have up to 15% of the salary cap alloted to dead cap space. This season’s salary would be paid in full and so the best Detroit could do is stretch the final year of Blake’s deal over three years. That would mean a $13 million cap hit each of the next three seasons. Based on the current projection of a $112 million salary cap, 15% would be $16.8 million. $13 million plus $4 million equals $17 million. That’s close but considering it is literally against the rules to have so much money waived, I’d put this in the not going to happen category.
Oh, god, Detroit’s not going to pull another Ben Gordon type trade again are they?
Almost definitely no. If you recall, the previous two epic free agency flops in Detorit were Ben Gordon and Josh Smith. Smith was stretched and waived, but we pretty much rule that out for Detroit. The other was Ben Gordon, who the Pistons traded away with a future first-round pick simply to get out from under his deal. The Pistons acquired the expiring contract of Corey Maggette in that deal and gave up the ninth pick in the 2014 NBA draft that eventually became Noah Vonleh. But it could have been Zach LaVine, TJ Warren, Gary Harris, Clint Capela, Nikola Jokic or even Jerami Grant ... you get the idea.
Detroit, frankly, doesn’t seem desperate enough to attach a significant asset in order to bribe another team into taking on Griffin’s contract. Detroit is in an obvious rebuild and are prioritizing young draft picks and players. New GM Troy Weaver has already traded just about everything — including young players — in order to get even younger. He dealt Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown, both young but both about to enter free agency for future draft capital. The Pistons are scheduled to be one of the NBA’s worst teams both this year and next, so it seems like those picks at least are off limits.
Would Weaver part with anything in addition to Blake?
He might be willing to offer up the last remaining pieces from before his hire date — Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk. The former is only 20 years old, however, and because he’s under team control for years to come there is no pressure to unload him. Mykhailiuk, meanwhile, is about to enter restricted free agency — just like Kennard and Brown were poised to. He’s struggling and could be moved, but it’s not like attaching Svi to Blake makes for an enticing deal or the financials any easier to work out.
Is there a chance that Blake will opt out of his deal like Gordon Hayward did in the offseason?
I mean, sure, but the two situations are extremely different. Hayward was betting on himself in the belief he could opt out of a $34.2 million team option believing he could sign another big contract. He was right, and he signed a four-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets. There is no deal anywhere close to that out there for Blake in the offseason.
That being said, Griffin will have made more than $200 million in career earns plus who knows how many millions in endorsements over the years. He doesn’t need the money. If anyone was willing to walk away from $38 million, it’d be someone like Blake. But it’s still unlikely, and the current negotiations are all about finding a happy medium between zero dollars and $38 million between Blake and the Pistons.
So what is the bottom line here?
The Pistons might mention the possibility of a trade, but the near-certainty would be the two sides working together on a buyout. Something that saves Detroit money next year and allows Blake to catch on with a team for the stretch run this season and the ability to control his own destiny next year.
Both sides know there is little sense in Blake remaining in Detroit to lose games and impede the development time for the Pistons’ young players. This is ultimately about one of the richest athletes in the world having representatives negotiate on his behalf with a billion-dollar franchise owned by one of the world’s richest people so that Griffin is asked to sacrifice $10-$15 million to earn his freedom.
Who would be interested in Blake Griffin if he is bought out?
Probably the Lakers, who have a new Anthony Davis injury to worry about. Plus, Blake is an LA guy. Maybe the Boston Celtics, who might just be looking for something to spice up some recent lethargic play and wouldn’t be asking Blake to do too much on either end.
Was Stan Van Gundy a bad general manager?