The NBA got turned on its head last night when the news suddenly broke, seemingly from out of nowhere, that the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers had made a major trade, sending superstar Blake Griffin and two scrubs to the Pistons for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a protected 1st Round pick, and a 2nd round pick.
Professional shooty hoops pundits argued #online about which team won the trade, with reactions ranging from a Clippers heist to a Pistons win, to pretty even, which when you get all three of those seems to mean that it’s a pretty even trade in all honesty.
But setting aside the TAEKS on who “won” the trade, I’m struggling to make sense of what either team really gets out of this. The Clippers shed a little salary in the exchange, but in the short-term get worse on the court. Essentially the trade is Tobias Harris and a 1st for Blake Griffin, because the other things kind of wash each other out.
The Clippers were in the head of the Western Conference Playoff race, just half a game back of the Denver Nuggets for the 8th spot. And as we previously mentioned, if their goal was to make the playoffs, then this trade certainly makes them worse, as Griffin was averaging roughly 22-9-5 on the season. Great numbers for a power forward, and much better than the incoming Tobias Harris is averaging, and people are saying that Harris is having a breakout season.
The only thing that seems to make sense is that the Clippers wanted to get anything they could for Griffin, which in this case is two picks, Boban, and a year-and-a-half of Harris, provided that they don’t re-sign Avery Bradley when becomes a free agent after the season, and doesn’t get traded for more assets, or that they are clearing tons of salary for a shot at major free agents in 2019 and 2020.
But this trade probably doesn’t help with those major free agent aspirations. Don’t forget that this is the team that sold Griffin on re-signing with them by hosting a “This is your life as a Clipper!” ceremony that included a fake jersey retirement, indicating that the team wanted him to be a Clipper for life. And then they traded him half a season later. Granted, it’s a bit his fault for not getting some sort of no-trade clause in his monster contract, but still, if the team can up and trade their biggest star ever to Detroit of all places, why wouldn’t they do that to some other free agent star who doesn’t have any history with the team?
At best that plan comes to fruition and they get a big free agent or two and try to compete for a Top-4 seed in the insanely difficult West, or, more likely, they spin their wheels in mediocrity when they fail to get a big star and remain stuck in that 7-10 seed range, not good enough to win anything, but not bad enough to get a great pick in the draft.
And then there’s the Pistons.
On the surface of this trade it seems like it does more for them than it does the Clippers. They get a legit NBA star who is still in his prime, which will give the team a boost in interest both in the news and at the gate where they have struggled to fill a new arena. But from a basketball point it likely puts them in the same spot as the Clippers, kind of spinning in mediocrity in hopes that you catch fire for a deep playoff run.
Griffin is far and away the best player in the deal, so from that stand point it’s good for the Pistons, but Griffin now gets to share the paint and post with Andre Drummond, who is having a great season, but cannot consistently score outside of put-backs and dunks. Not to mention that sending out Bradley and Harris, who could also play SF which Griffin cannot, robs them of any sort of depth they may have had at the SG and SF spots. But the team needed to try something, because with their starting PG out, the offense had been awful, and the team sagged into an 8-game losing streak, falling to 22-26 on the year, 2.5 games back of the 8th seed in the East Playoff race.
The other kicker is that if this trade turns out to be a disaster and the Griffin/Drummond combo goes up in flames, they are suddenly without a 1st Round Pick this year, provided it falls outside the Top-5, and so a bad season becomes worst as a crucial piece that could help kickstart a rebuild is gone.
The way I described this trade on Twitter last night was like this: A reshuffling of the deck chairs on a pair of NBA Titanics. Sure it gives the Pistons a shot in the arm and maybe a boost in terms of awareness, and maybe it sets up the Clippers to be better down the line, but for the next year or two, and very possibly beyond, this trade doesn’t do anything but further bury both teams in the worst place to be in the NBA: Buried in the middle of the pack, good but not good enough, bad but not bad enough.