The news of the Pistons’ blockbuster trade to acquire Blake Griffin on Monday was jarring. The shock spread across social media quickly, with knee-jerk reaction from experts and casual couch-coach fans was swift and mostly slanted: It was a bad — some even graded it horrific — move for the Pistons.
At first blush, it’s not pretty. The Pistons are taking on the remainder of Griffin’s salary of $29.5 million this season, plus $141.7 million over the next four years. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that’s what getting a superstar costs.
Superstar. That’s what Blake Griffin is.
Playoff team. That what the Pistons want to be.
They were languishing in the doldrums of an eight-game losing streak and streaking toward the lottery — and further into NBA purgatory — if they didn’t make some move to improve the roster.
Pistons general manager Jeff Bower did a lot of the legwork to make the Griffin trade work and team owner Tom Gores gave the go-ahead to the weighty financial commitment.
'Worth the risk'
It had to be done. Sure, some tidy situation with less risk would have been preferable, but the trade market isn’t stocked full of Blake Griffin-type players — and especially not for the price tag the Pistons had to pay to get him.
“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 this week. “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.”
It takes a little self-awareness to realize where the Pistons were — and where they could be going — after the Griffin trade. Thursday night’s debut at Little Caesars Arena gave a glimpse of what Griffin brings: 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. More than that, it was an infusion of energy and elite-level skill.
Griffin is better known for his high-flying dunks but he displayed a full skill set that drew cheers from Gores, casual fans and die-hards alike. His first basket was an off-balance, fadeaway shot off the glass. The Pistons haven’t had that type of shot-making in a long time, and that could be just a taste of what’s to come.
More than that, Griffin was able to get a favorable whistle from the referees, getting to the free-throw line 13 times (and making 11). That could become a regular staple in the Pistons’ offense, along with Griffin attracting defensive attention and dishing to open teammates, as he did to Anthony Tolliver on a go-ahead 3-pointer.
On the rise
“(Griffin) is underrated in terms of what he brings to the table,” TNT analyst Kenny Smith said Thursday night. “More importantly, he gets star calls — which means he’s going to stay on the free-throw line. He gives you that extra second to shoot, like Tolliver had. You have to go help and when he’s driving into that lane, he will bully you in and he can find people.”
Griffin’s presence will lift everyone else’s game, as he gets a better on-court rapport. Although Andre Drummond seemed to be looking to find a good rhythm in his first game with Griffin, he still managed 14 points and 15 rebounds. That’s just an appetizer for what could be when they get in sync.
“By his standards, he would say he didn’t even play that great of a game — but he finishes with 14 and 15 — that’s unreal. He’s going to be a lot of fun to play with,” Griffin said. “The biggest thing is I didn’t want him to feel like he had to get out of my way. You just have to come in and play — we’ll figure it out and our chemistry will get better and better.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Miami Heat, the Pistons are two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference — and only four games in the loss column behind the Miami Heat.
Getting Griffin, plus having seven of the next eight games at home, gives the Pistons (24-26) a chance to make a push in the last 32 games — and getting to the playoffs puts them in the discussion for more.
“They’re only four games from the No. 4 spot … they’re going to make up four games,” Charles Barkley said on TNT. “They’re going up.”
Exactly how far is the question.