Two weeks ago, the Pistons’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday was just a nondescript matchup on the long 82-game NBA schedule.
It took on a larger magnitude on Jan. 29, when the two teams hooked up for a blockbuster trade, headlined by Blake Griffin coming to the Pistons.
The trade has worked out for both teams, with the Pistons getting a big win before Griffin arrived to start a five-game streak, while the Clippers have both of their games. The key pieces in the deal, Griffin and Tobias Harris, are averaging 21.5 points each.
So, all is well, right?
Not so much.
There’s that little thing about the Clippers wanting to make a long-term commitment to Griffin, with a five-year max deal worth $171 million last summer to become their franchise player — and then trading him less than six months later.
Griffin isn’t openly holding a grudge, but admitted that his first matchup against his former team is going to be a little more than business as usual.
“Obviously, I know all those guys really well. I can’t say that it’s just another game,” Griffin said after Thursday’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to get wins; they’re trying to get wins. I’m not really the type of guy to be all buddy-buddy during the game.”
They’re not the same “Lob City” Clippers, with only DeAndre Jordan left from the highlight-reel squads with whom Griffin made his mark over the course of his career. Before the trade, Griffin spent his first eight-plus seasons with the Clippers, after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009. After recovering from a season-ending injury in his first season, Griffin was selected rookie of the year in 2010-11 and was a five-time All-Star in his career in Los Angeles.
All of those good memories and goodwill went out the window in the trade.
The Clippers (27-25) changed course ahead of the deadline and decided to free up salary-cap space for future plans to rebuild their roster, preferably with lower-cost, lower-risk superstars. That made Griffin available and prompted them to take Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and two draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2018, in the trade to begin their rebuild.
The Clippers gave a three-year extension to leading scorer Lou Williams this week and were looking to trade Jordan and Bradley also, but were unsuccessful. The Pistons also got Willie Reed and Brice Johnson in the deal and traded both of them in separate deals on Thursday to get strengthen their bench, adding Jameer Nelson and James Ennis.
Since the deal, the Pistons coaches and players have lamented losing their top two scorers in Harris and Bradley and a fan favorite in Marjanovic, but getting Griffin back has provided an infusion of excitement and has put them back in a playoff push. Bradley had an expiring contract and likely wasn’t going to return in the offseason, so the Pistons tried to get the best they could in return for their top perimeter defender.
It’s working out so far, with their recent surge.
Still, it will odd seeing their former teammates in a different uniform Friday.
“It’s going to be exciting to see them again. It was sad to see them go,” Andre Drummond told Fox Sports Detroit following Thursday’s win. “It’s definitely going to be an emotional game to play against, but I’m absolutely looking forward to beating them.”
Drummond (15.6) and Jordan (14.9) are the top two rebounders in the NBA.
The newest Pistons acquisitions, Nelson and Ennis, must pass physicals and the trades cleared by the NBA before they’re able to play, which likely won’t happen before Friday.
Clippers at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Friday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: ESPN, FSD/950
Outlook: It’s the first meeting between Blake Griffin and his former team since last week’s trade. Griffin is averaging 21.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his four games with the Pistons.