Blake Griffin has jumped over cars to win dunk contests, smacked his head on the sides of backboards, and once turned three consecutive passes from Chris Paul all into alley-oop slams in a span of about 30 seconds.
These days, we can only assume that he can still dunk. He hasn’t in a game since Dec. 12, 2019. More than 440 NBA players have gotten at least one slam down in that span, but none are from Griffin, and there might not be another anytime soon.
The Detroit Pistons and Griffin are going to be splitting up sometime in the coming weeks, after the sides revealed Monday that they’ve decided it best to go their separate ways. For now, much of the talk is about seeking a trade. But, eventually and not surprisingly, it will come down to money. Griffin is making about $36.8 million this season, has an option for about $39 million next season, and it’s hard to imagine that any team would be willing to make a trade happen for someone with the NBA’s eighth-highest salary and 128th-highest scoring average of 12.3 points this season.
So, if the Pistons are really going to move on, they’ll probably have to just take the hit, negotiate a buyout and truly start fresh. Trading that much contract is always difficult, and the market got a bit more muddled with Monday’s news that Cleveland is looking to move Andre Drummond and the rest of his expiring contract as well.
“Blake’s track record, his playing resume, speaks for itself,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Someday, the guy’s going to be a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the players that I’ve respected over the years. ... He can be a piece to a contending team. I’ve been with contending teams and you’d love to have a guy like Blake Griffin on your team.”
The days of Griffin terrorizing opponents and rims are over; he’s no longer elite, no longer a skywalker, but still could be very good in certain roles on certain teams — assuming, of course, that he’ll want to accept a diminished role. He turns 32 next month. That’s hardly washed-up, even for someone who came into the league more than a decade ago with left knee problems and missed most of last season with new left knee problems.
And there’s always a market for the veteran who is liked, respected, good in the locker room, good in the community.
Dwyane Wade came off the bench toward the end of his career in Miami. Vince Carter was primarily a reserve for his last eight seasons. The Los Angeles Lakers won a title last season thanks in large part to Rajon Rondo’s veteran savvy off the bench. Golden State had Andre Iguodala and David West in those roles during its run that saw the Warriors claim three titles in four years. There are countless other examples. Title-contenders want veterans who are smart and can help, and Griffin now gets to pick his spot.
Griffin has already reinvented himself once, so it’s not like he can’t do so again. Like many players in this 3-point era, he added that shot to his repertoire a few years back and it helped catapult him back to All-Star level in 2018-19 — he made 189 3’s that season, two shy from matching the total from his first eight seasons combined, and averaged 24.5 points.
The Pistons have played 93 games since. Griffin has missed 55 of them.
The good news here is that Griffin has been a superstar and has been paid like one; his current contract is a five-year, $173 million deal that preceded contracts worth about $95 million over his first eight seasons. If he wants his freedom right away, if he and his representation are able to pick his next destination, he could probably talk the Pistons into speeding up the process of getting to that team by leaving a few million on the bargaining table.
There’s also good news for the Pistons. General manager Troy Weaver told ESPN on Monday that the team “will work to achieve a positive outcome for all involved.” This decision comes a week or so after Detroit traded Derrick Rose to New York, clearing another veteran so younger players can log more minutes and develop. Rose got to be reunited with the Knicks and coach Tom Thibodeau, and has a better chance of reaching the postseason. A win-win.
It’s time for Griffin to find his win-win.
Weaver didn’t give Griffin a $173 million deal; the Clippers did. Weaver inherited it. The Pistons’ GM now gets to chart his own course and clearly has a multi-year rebuilding plan in mind. And there is promise: Around the time that the Griffin news was breaking on Monday, so too was word from the NBA that Saddiq Bey had been selected as the Eastern Conference’s player of the week.
Nobody hangs banners for weekly awards, but it’s one example of the potential that the Pistons believe they have.
They are looking to the future.
So, it’s time for Griffin to look toward his.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org