In incredibly expected news, the Blake Griffin trade market appears nonexistent. Griffin, the veteran forward of the Detroit Pistons has been sitting out for weeks after the team and Griffin’s reps decided it’d be best for both parties if they amicably separated.
For Blake, it’s about playing competitive ball on a contending team. For the Pistons, it’s about rebuilding, and opening up playing time and possessions for its younger players. With three weeks to go until the trade deadline, it appears a buyout is the most likely resolution, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.
I’m sure there are a handful of contenders that would be interested in Griffin as a depth piece as a small-ball center or simply a big man who can pass the ball. That doesn’t interest me.
Wave or Waive and Stretch
What does interest me is how the Detroit Pistons approach this buyout. There are two options once the two sides come to terms on how much money Griffin is willing to forgo in order to earn his freedom:
1. Release Griffin outright and eat his remaining salary this year and next year minus whatever he agrees to give back (more on how much he might be willing to give up below).
2. Waive and stretch Griffin and stretch the remaining portion after the buyout over the next three seasons.
I previously wrote the salary cap would not allow Griffin to be stretched, and that is true if he is making his full salary. But if he sacrifices several million dollars, the Pistons would have enough wiggle room within the salary cap threshold to stretch their commitment to Blake.
Which is the better option, and which is the most likely to be utilized by Pistons Troy Weaver? Well, we know he’s aggressive and that he loves to use the stretch provision having already used it twice before the season.
But the Pistons don’t necessarily find themselves in the same position they were when Weaver arrived, and Blake makes so much money the pain will be significant, and it will be noticeable.
Salary Cap Snapshot
Let’s dive into the money.
Blake is set to make the prorated portion of $36.8 million for the rest of this season, and $38.9 million next season — roughly $51 million after the trade deadline, per Bobby Marks at ESPN. The Pistons have $104.5 million in salary committed next season with a $112 million cap. They have a first-round draft pick that could make anywhere from $6-$10 million.
So with Blake making full money, the Pistons are pretty much capped out. More importantly, however, are the players who will be fully under contract and Detroit seems at least comfortable with making a part of its rotation.
Roster Holes Already Patched
Veterans who are under contract include: Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Delon Wright, Jahlil Okafor and Josh Jackson. Detroit also seems intent on continuing to develop its young players, and early returns are mostly promising. That means they’ll want to find time on the floor for Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and Sekou Doumbouya.
That’s already 10 guys, and even if you aren’t particularly enthused about a stopgap like Okafor or the upside of Sekou, you still have an 8-deep rotation with a high first-round pick expected to join them.
The point being, the Pistons don’t have nearly the number of rotational holes to fill and therefore don’t need immediate cap room to get a team together that fits the mold of what Weaver is after. He’s already got that.
How Much Pain Now and How Much Pain Later?
So what would a buyout of Blake look like? I have no idea how much money he’s willing to give up. Let’s say on the low end it’s $10 million and on the high end it is $20 million.
The Pistons would have no incentive to see any of those saving applied this year’s salary, so let’s apply it all next year for this thought exercise.
Ten million gives Detroit enough money to add a rotational piece plus more minimum deals to fill out its depth. If Blake gives back $20 million, Detroit can theoretically add another Jerami Grant-level difference-maker ... if there is one out there.
The free agent pool is incredibly shallow this offseason, and there are tons of teams with eight teams projected to have more than $20 million available, and other clubs could open up significant room if they move on from veterans.
The wild card is, of course, Troy Weaver. In the next three weeks, he could opt to trade veterans currently garnering trade interest in Plumlee and Wright, and that would open up new holes that need to be filled on the roster.
But if he does opt to stretch Griffin to open up that immediate cap space, the Pistons will have a huge dead cap figure in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
If Griffin gives back $10 million and is owed $28.9 million, that would be stretched for three season evenly to the tune of $9.6 million per season. Detroit also has a stretch on Zhaire Smith for the next two seasons and Dewayne Dedmon for the next five. That would mean $13.5 million in dead money on the Pistons’ books in 2021 and 2022 and $12.5 million in 2023.
The Pistons are early in their rebuild, but it seems like the smart decision would be to frontload all that pain into next season and open up significant cap room and flexibility beginning in 2022. By then, the Pistons will have two more likely high draft picks, its core four of rookies from this season (if Saben sticks) and will be making a decision on further financial commitments to Sekou Doumbouya and Josh Jackson.
Make It Hurt
I simply don’t see much of a strategic benefit to opening up a small portion of cap room next season. It won’t allow the Pistons to compete for high-tier free agents and they don’t have pressure to radically transform their roster. Detroit has players seemingly worth developing at all five positions and enough competent play from veterans at forward, guard and center.
It’d be much better for the franchise to enter 2022 with a sense of what you can make from your young roster including who should stay long-term, who can be flipped for bigger fish and who just isn’t working out. The team would also have a huge war chest of salary cap space available to add potentially difference-making pieces.
If you stretch him, you get what? The chance to sign one veteran of the Mason Plumlee variety?
It seems like the choice is clear. Then again, I’m not Troy Weaver, and who knows what crazy stew he’s cooking in Detroit.