'Serious about winning,' Pistons acquire Blake Griffin
In the midst of an eight-game losing streak, the Pistons’ season was in limbo.
They made a move Monday to stop the freefall and skyrocket their way up in the playoff race.
The Pistons completed a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for five-time All-Star Blake Griffin, the team announced early Tuesday morning. In addition to Griffin, the Pistons receive forwards Willie Reed and Brice Johnson in return for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic, along with a protected first-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2019.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was first to report the trade and the players involved.
“We are serious about winning, and this is a major move to improve our team,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a team statement. “Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s elite players, and when you get an opportunity to add that kind of talent, you take it.”
Wojnarowski reported earlier Monday that the Pistons had made Bradley available in trade talks and Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons' coach and team president, found a package that he liked, giving up their leading scorer in Harris to get a coveted bona fide star in return.
A five-time All-Star, Griffin is averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 33 games this season. He was rookie of the year in 2010-11 and was selected second-team All-NBA in the next three seasons. He was also third-team All-NBA in 2014-15.
Griffin has an injury history in his eight NBA seasons that could give pause to celebrating the trade. He suffered a concussion in December, a sprained MCL in November, a broken toe in April 2017, right knee surgery in December 2016 and back issues dating back to 2014.
“The move is not without risk. We gave up a lot to get him, including Tobias Harris — one of the hardest working, highest-character players I know — and two high quality young men in Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic,” Gores’ statement said. “But we are very excited to bring Blake Griffin to Detroit. He is a great fit for our team and will bring a combination of toughness and athleticism that will elevate our team and excite our fans.”
Griffin was the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft and at 6-foot-10, Griffin is a high-level scorer and will form a formidable frontcourt combination alongside center Andre Drummond. He arrives as the Pistons’ No. 1 offensive option and a needed athletic piece on the defensive end, paired with Drummond.
By giving up two starters in the trade, the Pistons will have to retool the lineup, likely elevating either Stanley Johnson or rookie Luke Kennard to a starting role. The Pistons the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena; it’s not likely that any of the acquired players will be available to play, as they’ll have to pass physicals before the trade is able to be completed officially.
“Blake has been an All-NBA performer, he’s a five-time All-Star and a player that commands attention whenever he’s on the floor,” Van Gundy said in the statement. “His presence will help us offensively and his size gives us another rebounder and weapon in the paint.
“Willie Reed and Brice Johnson are two young players that give us size and depth. On the flip side, I thank Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic for their efforts and wish them the best moving forward.”
In acquiring Griffin, the Pistons also add another max contract to their already-inflated payroll. Griffin signed a five-year deal for $173 million in July, with $29.5 million this season, $31.9 million next season, $34.2 in 2019-20, $36.6 in 2020-21 and a player option for $39 million in 2021-22.
Taking on Griffin’s massive contract is a big pill for the Pistons to swallow, as they’re already committed to Drummond for $23.8 million this season, $25.4 million in 2018-19, $27.1 million in 2019-20 and a player option for $28.8 million in 2020-21.
It’s not clear whether the Pistons are done making deals ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline. They still have a lingering issue with Reggie Jackson’s injury, a sprained ankle that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 26 — and likely will keep him sidelined for another couple weeks, before he’s able to resume basketball activities.
They’ve struggled to find consistency with backups Ish Smith, Langston Galloway and Dwight Buycks at point guard.
The Pistons were motivated to deal Bradley, whom they acquired last summer in a trade with the Boston Celtics for Marcus Morris. Bradley is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, with a projected salary that could be in the range of $18 million to $20 million.
If the Pistons didn’t find a deal for Bradley, they risked losing him for nothing.
Parting with Harris was a difficult decision, as he was having the best season of his career, with a team-high 18.1 points and shooting a team-leading 41 percent on 3-pointers. His salary of $16 million was a bargain given his production, but he was a necessary part of a package that could potentially garner an All-Star-caliber player.
Harris was a budding talent for the Pistons, in his third season after arriving in a trade with the Orlando Magic for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova in February 2016.
Marjanovic was a free-agent signing in July 2016 and signed a three-year deal for $21 million. At 7-foot-4, he was a traditional, plodding center, in the same mold of Drummond, and had split time with Eric Moreland as the backup center behind Drummond.
He played in 19 games this season, posting 6.2 points and 3 rebounds in 9 minutes per game and had struggled to see significant playing time because of defensive matchups.
As for the draft picks involved in the deal, Wojnarowski reported that there are protections on the first-round pick: the Pistons will retain the pick if it’s in the top four in any of the next three drafts, with no protections in 2021.
Reed is a 6-10 big man in his third NBA season. He’s played in 39 games this season, including five starts, averaging 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 11 minutes. Johnson was the Clippers’ first-round pick in the 2016 draft. He’s 6-foot-10 and has played in just nine games this season, posting 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds.
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Age: 29 (March 16, 1989)
Career highlights: Griffin is a five-time NBA All-Star and a three-time All-NBA second-team selection. He was named NBA rookie of the year in 2011, and in the same year, he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest when he jumped over a car. In college, he was consensus first-team All America at Oklahoma in 2009. This year, Griffin is averaging 22.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Age: 27 (May 16, 1990)
College: Saint Louis
Career highlights: Reed comes to the Pistons after having appeared in 39 games this season for the Clippers as a reserve, averaging 4.9 points per game and 3.1 rebounds. Reed went undrafted in 2011 after leaving two years of eligibility on the table at Saint Louis. He spent four years in the D-League, including some time with the Grand Rapids Drive, before getting to the NBA in the 2015-16 season with the Brooklyn Nets.
Age: 23 (June 27, 1994)
College: North Carolina
Career highlights: Johnson is probably best remembered for his time at North Carolina, where he helped the Tar Heels reach the national-championship game in 2016. He averaged 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds during his senior campaign. That led to him being drafted 25th overall by the Clippers. Johnson appeared in just three games during his rookie season. This season, he’s appeared in just eight games, logging 38 total minutes.