The Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin, along with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson, to the Detroit Pistons. In return, LA gets Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, HERO OF SERBIA fan favorite Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick.
In other words, the Clips shipped out an oft-injured guy who hasn’t come close to playing a full season’s worth of games since 2014 and hasn’t made the All-Star Game since 2015, who is nearly 29, and whose scoring efficiency has cratered without Chris Paul getting him the ball.
And they got back a defensive wizard who has played with coach Doc Rivers before, one of the most intriguing and overlooked prospects just entering his prime, a backup center who has an uncanny nose for the ball and who the advanced stats absolutely love, and draft picks that might just net them an All-Star if Griffin gets hurt again and Detroit craters out of the playoff chase.
That’s right, I’ll come right out and say it:
This trade makes the Clippers better today and makes them better in the future.
This was a pantsing of epic proportions.
What The Clippers Gave Up
Griffin is a polarizing figure to be sure, but from where I’m sitting, he’s a guy on a max contract making $30 million a year (rising to almost $39 million by the final year of the five-year deal in 2021-22) with $15 million talent. He is spectacularly overpaid and will clog up Detroit’s cap for years.
Plus, his shooting percentage is down to 44.1 percent, he’s taking more three-pointers despite being a lousy three-point shooter (34.2 percent), he doesn’t fit as a stretch four in Stan Van Gundy’s four-out offense, and the only way he was getting any decent looks would’ve been if he had a guy like Harris spacing the floor.
Griffin is entering the downside of his career just as he’s got a megabucks lottery jackpot of a contract. He was supposed to be the Clippers’ albatross as they descended into the depths of tank warfare just as the league finally cracked down on tanking.
Now he’s Detroit’s cross to bear, and do they really want the bulk of their salary cap tied up in Griffin and Andre Drummond?
The Clippers solved a problem through addition by subtraction when they traded Griffin. He’s not their problem anymore.
Reed and Johnson are nice throw-ins for cap and roster size reasons, but neither is a particularly significant impact player or intriguing long-term prospect; we can safely ignore them for purposes of evaluating what got sent out.
What Detroit Gave Up
Tobias Harris drew rave reviews here at Pace and Space (https://paceandspacehoops.com/tobias-harris-is-he-any-good/) for his ability to score while limiting his tendency to shoot his team out of games. He will provide good wing spacing for the Clippers, and as his shot continues to develop as he enters his prime, he and Lou Williams could evolve into two pieces of an exciting Clippers offense that instantly becomes must-see viewing on League Pass.
And with DeMarcus Cousins on the shelf, the road to the 8 seed lies open should Doc Rivers be able to figure out what to do with his roster down the stretch. After all, the Clips weren’t even supposed to be 25-24 through 49 games; this seems less like a sellout and more like a direction shift.
Bradley’s been a bugbear in Detroit, his shooting percentage dropping like a rock from 46.3 his last year in Boston to 40.9 on the Pistons. His other counting stats have held more or less constant, but the advanced stats hate him (he’s got negative Win Shares this year and his BPM and VORP suggest he’s worse for the team than if they fished an above-average player out of the G-League.)
But Doc has coached Bradley before, so who’s to say he can’t find the right role for Bradley to return him to prominence? After all, we have never seen Van Gundy coach anyone to his full potential who wasn’t a big man; having Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond has been the secret to his entire reputation (it will be interesting to see if Van Gundy tries to shoehorn Griffin back into a low post role.)
This isn’t even the first time Bradley’s struggled; his PER dipped all the way to 8.8 in 2013; it’s at 9.9 this year. In fact, he’s never even been league average in PER; that stat doesn’t properly account for defense, but if Doc can get Avery even remotely back on some kind of offensive track, possibly as a distributor for Williams and Harris while feeding DeAndre Jordan in the low post, can anyone seriously say that’s a downgrade for the Clippers offensively? Not better or worse. Different.
Oh, and there’s also HERO OF SERBIA Marjanovic. Sure, the industrial-sized Serb may not be an All-Star, but in 2016, he had more win shares per 48 minutes than Steph Curry. He’s got a career PER of 27.2. Every advanced stat you’d care to look at defines his role as exactly what he is; a fantastic safety-valve backup center and rim protector, and on the Clippers especially, that means he and Jordan become, well, not interchangeable exactly, but it allows for consistency across the first and second unit in how the game flows.
Or maybe I just overrate Boban because he’s just so much fun to watch. But still. He’s better than he’s given credit for, much less of a cheap throw-in than the guys the Clips shipped out.
Oh, and just to accelerate the Clippers’ advance back to the ranks of the West contenders, they get a first and second round pick. Detroit sold up the shop on this one.
The Clippers didn’t just win this trade. They submitted a solid candidate for Biggest Fleecing in NBA History. Especially if Griffin gets hurt, and double especially if one of those draft picks yields a Hall of Famer, then it’ll go down in history alongside “Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to Boston for Joe Barely Cares” or “Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas for Robert Traylor.”
Heads are going to roll in Detroit for this one. Stan Van Gundy won’t keep his job, you heard it here first.