Pistons' Blake Griffin answers a few questions at the press conference. Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — The buzz around Little Caesars Arena was palpable, with Blake Griffin jerseys for sale in the team shops and some fans sporting them in the stands. Griffin hadn’t even arrived in Detroit after being traded from the Los Angeles Clippers, but Pistons fans were craving his impending appearance.
As Griffin makes his anticipated debut Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the notion that the blockbuster deal on Monday was more about optics and selling tickets to fill the empty seats at Little Caesars Arena was an immediate thought among some fans.
For Pistons owner Tom Gores, it’s not that simple.
Selling tickets is part of the equation, but it’s more about building a winning team, which in turn, brings fans to the arena.
“I didn’t really concentrate on (selling tickets). Additional buzz and excitement is always good for an organization,” Gores said Wednesday. “I did consider the idea of getting a player like Blake and what it could do for the franchise. I did consider the buzz it would bring to our players and our organization; I didn’t think for a second about filling the stadium — that would be very short-term — and if it didn’t work, we’d have fans vanishing.”
By most accounts, the Pistons rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of attendance. Some of that is due to their losing record (23-26) and recent eight-game losing streak. Some is due to the move downtown to a new arena. There are myriad causal links, but with the deal for Griffin, it’s likely to turn things around.
Griffin, a five-time All-Star, will add some fanfare with his high-flying and versatile style of play. For Gores, it was an easy decision to pursue Griffin, despite the concerns about his bulky contract and injury history. While the Pistons have an All-Star in Andre Drummond, getting another top-tier player in Griffin puts them on the highway to contending for a playoff spot — and maybe more.
“We need the level of a Blake. You see it around the league and as much as I think Stan (Van Gundy) and we do a good job piecing together players and giving the roles, you probably need a couple players like that,” Gores said. “We didn’t go searching with that philosophy. It did come to us and we couldn’t not look at a guy like Blake, who could change the franchise.
“We weren’t deliberate and saying let’s go find a star. You see it in the league — and it’s not even my opinion in the league — the elite teams have a few Blakes.”
At the ownership level, Gores and his team did a significant amount of research and breaking down the pros and cons of making such a huge financial commitment, weighing whether the injury risk was worth taking on Griffin, who is in the first year of a five-year, $173-million deal.
“We looked at that and did this with a lot of hard analysis and thought: at some point, we were going to have to take a risk on a player like Blake,” Gores said. “When you look at his performances over the years in the league, he’s consistently in the high 20s (scoring) and the rebounds.
“We also did look at the injuries and understood Blake works very hard; he has a very regimented training program. He takes care of his body and some of the injuries are a little fluky and we subtracted some of that and looked at his whole body of work.
“We know basketball is a game full of risks. After our assessment, it was really clear he was worth the risk and his character and discipline in taking care of his body will show him to be a player for a long time.”
PISTONS VS. GRIZZLIES
Tip-off: 7 Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: FSD/1270 AM
Notable: The Pistons (23-26) ended their eight-game slide with a surprising win over the Cavs. The Grizzlies (18-32) are sitting guard Tyreke Evans, likely anticipating a deal before the trade deadline.