Injured Griffin keeps watch from the sideline as the Pistons chart new course
Detroit — Last March, the Pistons were in the final few weeks of a push toward the playoffs, with Blake Griffin the catalyst for their second postseason appearance in a decade.
The grand plan was to add to the roster mix, with Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris and hope that good health would propel the Pistons back to the playoffs. Instead, Griffin is out for the season, Rose is out for at least two weeks and Morris got a buyout and is playing with the Lakers.
The best-laid plans sometimes go astray.
Griffin had knee surgery in January but has been doing weekly check-ins with the Pistons during his rehab. He’s on schedule to begin his normal workout regimen in the summer and to be back in the fall to begin training camp.
It was a slow start to this season, in which Griffin played just 18 games and didn’t look anywhere close to the All-NBA production he had last season, which raised expectations for this year.
“I was sort of trying to build back into it and had a moment here or there where I didn't necessarily feel 100%, sort of like that thing in the back of your mind of trying to ignore those things and push through it and say, ‘OK, if I get to this point, I get to that point, I'll be fine,’ he said.
“And I just never got there really — and it was pretty apparent — so I think we made the right decision, but, now my whole focus is moving forward.”
The entire Pistons landscape has changed since Griffin last played, on Dec. 28. With most of the core of the roster either injured or with other teams, the outlook is more toward the draft lottery than the playoffs.
That optimism has given way to evaluating the young players and looking forward to what pieces might be around next season when Griffin returns to the lineup. Griffin has been a keen observer to what some of the young players — including Christian Wood, Svi Mykhailiuk, Bruce Brown and rookie Sekou Doumbouya — have done with their chance to play more minutes.
“Yeah, it's a great opportunity for them. Wood, Svi, Bruce, even Khyri (Thomas), Sekou, all these guys ... just the opportunity to play in games,” Griffin said. “I was blessed with that opportunity my rookie year and played 38 minutes a game. I got that experience and it's irreplaceable.
“You can't replace actual real-game experience in the NBA. So, using that to our advantage and getting those guys a bunch of playing time and our coaching staff is doing a great job of teaching and helping guys learn throughout this process is that next step when you're not fighting for a playoff position.”
The trade for Griffin came under then-team president Stan Van Gundy and with Ed Stefanski now running basketball operations, the push was for the playoffs, but in getting the financial situation under control, there could be a new direction in the years to come.
With Griffin’s huge contract numbers — $36.6 million next season and a player option for $39 million in 2021-22 — it’s unlikely he’ll be going anywhere. He said he hasn’t talked to the front office about what the plans are for him, but he’s looking to see the new direction.
After trading Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers and losing Jackson and Morris to buyouts, the writing is on the wall about where the team is going.
“Whenever a new front office comes in, you sort of have some decisions to make; you sort of have a year of, say, really determining, I guess, your next steps and I think it could change. I think it's fluid, but clearly that they felt that change was necessary,” Griffin said. “I guess you could say that was maybe the first of the pieces. Just because of the type of player Dre is and also what he meant to this franchise. I haven't involved myself really in that. When the time comes, I'll have that conversation to see where we're at and go from there.”
Jazz at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Pistons (20-43) have lost nine of their last 10 games and have a dismal 11-21 home record. The Jazz (39-22) are tied for fourth in the West and are vying for home-court advantage in the playoffs.