Cleveland — The Pistons already were having a tough season because of injuries.
The road ahead got tougher Tuesday, as the team announced that six-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin underwent surgery on his left knee.
Griffin, who had missed 19 of the Pistons’ 37 games, underwent a procedure called arthroscopic knee debridement, which served to clean out some of the loose bodies in his knee ligaments. He will undergo an extended rehabilitation; there’s no timetable for his return.
Some debridement procedures have a recovery period of six to eight weeks, but in Griffin’s case, it’s unclear what the timetable would be. If the Pistons aren’t pushing for the playoffs, he possibly could be shut down for the remainder of the season and begin getting ready for next season.
Griffin has struggled this season, missing the last four games; he last played in the loss San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 28, finishing with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting — with 3-of-10 on 3-pointers. He missed the remainder of the western trip, including a notable matchup against his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers, on Jan. 2.
Last season, Griffin had the highest production, posting a career-best 24.5 points, along with 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists and was voted third-team All-NBA.
The loss represents more than just the offensive production and experience; Griffin has been a positive influence on so many things for the Pistons since he arrived in January 2018.
“The 25 points, the leadership, the toughness, the presence of Blake — you're not going to replace that, but it is good. We know the direction right now; we know what we're dealing with — it's not 'Is he playing or is he not playing?'” coach Dwane Casey said before Tuesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I think it's a relief for Blake also, and our thoughts and prayers go to him.
“He's a warrior. He's a guy who's been through a lot these last two years and he definitely carried us last year and tried his best to do that this year, but his body just wouldn't let him.”
In the 18 games he’s played this season, he hasn’t been the same, as he’s lost his lift in jumping and hasn’t finished with the same strength or quickness around the rim.
Griffin’s absence has provided an opportunity for rookie Sekou Doumbouya to get an extended look in a starting role. With the decision to have surgery, it becomes clear that the Pistons are going to be without their best player and that he may not return this season.
“As Rick Pitino once said, 'Larry Bird is not walking through the door — well, Blake Griffin is not walking through that door any time soon.’ So, it gives direction; it's definitive,” Casey said. “Guys know that he's not playing tonight and not playing tomorrow night; it's it for a while. So, it gives us a direction and it gives a kid like Sekou a clear opportunity to play and to get the valuable minutes under his belt.
“It is a direction that we're going right now. We have no other choice and nobody else is coming in except the guys that are here, which is good for the young players.”
Griffin is in the third year of a five-year contract worth $173 million. He is owed $76 million after this season, including a final-year player option at $39 million. He was acquired from the Clippers in January 2018 and last season led the Pistons to the playoffs, a four-game sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Pistons (13-24), are fading from playoff consideration, having lost eight of their last 10 games. They have a favorable upcoming schedule, with 11 of the next 12 games against teams with losing records, including three matchups against the Cleveland Cavaliers and two against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Pistons could determine the course of their season following that stretch, though there have been talks to trade center Andre Drummond before the Feb. 6 deadline.
The team provided an update on point guard Reggie Jackson’s rehabilitation from his back injury. Jackson saw a specialist while the team was in Los Angeles and he is making progress toward returning to full basketball activities.
There is no timetable for his return.
Jackson played in just the first two regular-season games of the year and has been doing some light basketball work, but has not been in full-contact workouts.
The Pistons didn’t have an update on the status of Luke Kennard (knee tendinitis).