The good, the bad, the ugly, and the desperate in the Blake Griffin trade

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Nobody saw this trade coming. Not even the teams involved a week prior, and certainly not people around the league. The conventional wisdom was the Clippers didn’t want to trade Griffin — they just maxed him out in July — and couldn’t have if they had even wanted to because he’s a massive salary for a player with a long injury history.

Even Griffin was caught unaware.

The obstacles didn’t stop the deal. Blake Griffin has been traded to the Detroit Pistons. As a reminder, this is how this shakes out:

The Pistons receive: Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, Willie Reed

The Clippers receive: Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick (1-4 protected this year), a second-round pick.

I usually like to break down trades in the theme of the classic Clint Eastwood film of “The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly,” but we’re throwing in a new category, the Desperate, in this one. Because it fits.

THE GOOD: The Los Angeles Clippers. Rarely does the team giving up the best player in the trade “win” it, but in this case the trade represents a shift the Clippers frankly should have started last summer. When Chris Paul forced a trade last June, the then brain trust of owner Steve Ballmer and GM/President Doc Rivers decided not to rebuild, rather they signed Blake Griffin to a max five-year deal, signed Danilo Gallinari, and put together a team that if healthy could well be a bottom-half playoff team in the West. Of course, they weren’t healthy, and that should have been expected. Now after months of the new brain trust — Lawrence Frank and Jerry West — in Ballmer’s ear, he has agreed to the rebuild and clearing out cap space. (There is talk about the Clippers having the room to go after LeBron James/Paul George next summer, but I have heard LeBron has zero interest in joining the Clippers.)

Los Angeles also did well in what they got back for Griffin, considering there was almost no interest around the league in him and his contract (too expensive, too often injured). Tobias Harris is a good wing player who can hit the three and score on the drive, Avery Bradley can defend and is going to play hard going into a contract year, and they get a first-round pick this season (unless the Pistons miss the playoffs then win the lottery). That’s not a bad haul, all things considered. The Clippers did well.

THE GOOD: Tobias Harris. Want a good litmus test for who watches the NBA regularly and who doesn’t? If when they heard about the trade they said: “who is Tobias Harris?” He is a good player — a guy just missing the All-Star team in the East this season — who is averaging 18.1 points per game this season, gets traded a lot, but gets a little better every year. He’s a wing who is an excellent spot-up shooter, is hitting 40.9 percent from three, has good handles and can get to the rim, can effectively run the pick-and-roll, knows how to pass and does everything well.

With Griffin gone the Clippers will be in need of shot creation (especially if Lou Williams gets traded as well), Harris is going to get the chance to show just how good he is in a bigger market. He will have freedom from Doc Rivers he should thrive in.

THE GOOD: Avery Bradley. You want another good litmus test for who watches the NBA regularly? If someone starts telling you how good Avery Bradley is they’re not watching — he’s been awful this season. He still is a good on-ball defender (although that has regressed), and he can hit spot-up threes (38.1 percent from deep this season). But he’s not scoring well at all inside the arc (just 57.1 percent at the rim and not good from anywhere else), isn’t strong on hand-offs or cuts, and can’t create shots for himself. He’s been hampered by a groin injury this season, which is part of the issue.

Bradley also is a free agent this summer — this trade is a chance to redeem himself and make himself some money this summer. Play well with the Clippers and his stock rises.

THE BAD: Blake Griffin. I think he will like Detroit, once he gets there and gets settled on the team and in the city, this is not about disrespecting the Motor City. This is about where Griffin sees himself and where he is now. Two seasons ago he was on a team that thought it could contend for a title, and while they never lived up to that goal — or got out of the second round — they were consistently a top-5 or at least top-7 NBA team that played meaningful games. Then this summer, when Chris Paul forced his way to Houston, the Clippers wooed Griffin with a dog-and-pony show about his life up until now, then showed what it would look like when they raised his jersey to the ceiling. They said he was a Clipper for life and the most important person in franchise history, Griffin said he wanted to retire a Clipper. Eight months later he’s off to Detroit. Griffin loved the Los Angeles lifestyle, he was active in comedy clubs and in the city’s entertainment network, and now that is just an off-season pursuit. It’s a blow. He’ll adapt, but it’s a blow.

THE DESPERATE: The Detroit Pistons. I’m not ready to call the Pistons losers here — they got the best player in the trade, and Griffin and Andre Drummond form an interesting front line that could play well off each other. However, this move reeks of desperation. The Pistons had lost eight in a row, they had fallen out of the playoffs, they were desperate for wins, and so Stan Van Gundy felt he had to do something bold. He went and got a superstar. However, this move comes with a ton of risk. Griffin is 28 (29 in March) and in his prime, but he’s got a long injury history and has averaged 54 games a year over the last three and is going to make an average of more than $35 million a year over the course of this contract (he can opt into $39 million in 2021-22). Combine that with the Drummond contract, and the Pistons will owe those two stars around $65 million the final years of their deals, which will make putting a good team around the stars difficult.

Also, it’s fair to ask if Drummond and Griffin can play together. In theory, Griffin can run the offense out at the elbow (and make some high-low passes to Drummond), keeping Drummond on the block where he is at his best. Griffin can also run the pick-and-pop with point guard Reggie Jackson, and Griffin has hit his threes this season. But the move left the thin guard/wing possessions in Detroit even worse off, allowing teams to pack the paint and take away options. This may be a front-line to be reckoned with, maybe Griffin/Drummond can be a better passing version of Griffin/DeAndre Jordan, but the Clippers had Chris Paul running the show. Reggie Jackson, when healthy, is no Chris Paul.

THE UGLY: Pistons’ floor spacing. The Pistons floor spacing was already an issue. Sure, Detroit is fifth in the NBA in the number of three-pointers attempted, but the team lacks a depth of good three-point shooters (the team is middle of the pack in shooting percentage), there are limited guys on the roster they trust to hit threes consistently and most of them now come off the bench. Now the Pistons have shipped out two of their better three-point shooters in the form of Harris and Bradley. The Pistons still have Luke Kennard and Henry Ellison off the bench, but they lack shot creators for their spot-up guys and shooting among the starters.

Griffin has an outside shot and this season has shown he can hit threes, but he’s a guy who needs to benefit from good floor spacing, not be the guy who has to create it for others. Stan Van Gundy likes his teams to play inside out, but now opponents can just pack the paint and then challenge jump shooters as best they can. Detroit also doesn’t have the cap space to add players to solve this problem.

Jeremy Lin: I believe J.J. Redick

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76ers guard J.J. Redick explained then apologized for saying what sounded like a slur for Chinese people, claiming he was tongue-tied.

Nets guard Jeremy Lin:

Lin’s Asian-American heritage helps make him very popular with the same people most offended by Redick. Lin vouching for Redick will likely go a long way in diffusing tension.

Hornets dropping GM Rich Cho, will reportedly pursue Mitch Kupchak

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Update: Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that the team will not extend the contract of General Manager Rich Cho. The Hornets will begin a search for a new general manager immediately.

“I want to thank Rich for all of his hard work with the Charlotte Hornets organization through the years and wish him and his family the best in the future,” said Hornets Chairman Michael Jordan. “Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization. We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

 

Last spring, the Hornets exercised their option on general manager Rich Cho for this season. It wasn’t exactly a strong vote of confidence without a contract extension.

Now, it’s becoming even more clear he’s a lame duck.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Cho has had plenty of hits and misses as general manager, including a year with the Trail Blazers. But the misses have added up in Charlotte. The Hornets’ next general manager will inherit:

Kemba Walker helps, but he can’t do it alone. This bloated payroll leaves little flexibility for roster upgrades – necessary to lift Charlotte into strong playoff contention. Walker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, and affording him could be tricky.

This is not a good job (relative to the other 29 NBA general manager jobs, of course).

Hornets owner Michael Jordan certainly plays into that. In one of the biggest gaffes of the Cho era, Charlotte rejected the Celtics’ offer of four first-round picks for the No. 9 pick in the 2015 draft, just to pick Frank Kaminsky. (Boston wanted Justise Winslow.) Was that Cho’s call or Jordan’s?

Cho takes the fall, though. That’s how this works.

Jordan’s ownership also means he gets to pick the replacement. It’s surely not a coincidence he’s leaning toward Mitch Kupchak (who played at North Carolina) and Buzz Peterson (who played with Jordan at North Carolina).

Kupchak fizzled late, but his overall tenure with the Lakers was a success. Has the game passed him by, or did recency bias unfairly paint him unfavorably? We might get to find out.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: I told players we’re better off losing

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban admitted the Mavericks tanked last season, but said they wouldn’t this season until they’re eliminated.

Apparently, he’s loosening the restriction – and getting even more brazen about discussing it.

Dallas (18-40) is not officially eliminated, but with the league’s third-worst record, it’s only a matter of time.

Cuban on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J:

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me.

But being transparent, I think that’s the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability.

This is why it’s not completely accurate to say players don’t tank.

Sure, they don’t go on the court and try to lose. Some would have their job for the following season jeopardized by a higher draft pick.

But when management wants to lose, that flows throughout the entire organization, including to players. Workers don’t perform as well when their boss prefers failure. A feeling of apathy (or wore) sets in, intentionally or not.

The message isn’t always this direct, and it’s practically never publicly revealed like this. Cuban marches to his own drum, and he’s absolutely right: NBA commissioner Adam Silver – who disliked last year’s comments – certainly won’t like these.

However Silver responds, Cuban can at least take solace in being right. The Mavericks are better off tanking, and telling the players can build trust. They would have figured it out for themselves, anyway.

Kevin Love says about a month until he’s back on court with new-look Cavaliers

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LOS ANGELES — Kevin Love had some of the best seats in the house for the new-look Cavaliers and their 2-0 push before the break, and he wants back on the court to be part of it.

“I’m probably about two weeks out from getting this movable cast off for good, and then from there about a few weeks after that before I get back,” Love told NBCSports.com about his recovery from a fractured left hand. “So I have a good amount of time, about a month.”

Love was in Los Angeles all last weekend, where he had been voted onto the All-Star team by the coaches for the fifth time, but for the second consecutive year had to sit out due to injury. Love seemed to be at all the events in his former home Los Angeles — working with Kevin Hart for the “Closer Than Courtside” with Mountain Dew Kickstart, at the Beats by Dre party in Hollywood, and courtside for the All-Star Game itself sitting next to Kyrie Irving and LeBron James — but not on the court where he wants to be.

When he does get back on the court, it will be a very different team in Cleveland he’s playing with — and he thinks that’s a good thing.

“Just clearing out… I shouldn’t say that, just getting new faces and getting new energy in the locker room has been big for us,” Love told NBC Sports Saturday. “Even in the last two games, you can just see the energy is different, you can see guys are really competing on both ends of the floor, and that bodes well for us the second half of the season.”

The changes were needed.

“It might not have been a bad thing to get some fresh faces in there and guys from situations where they really wanted to win,” Love said during media day. “I think first and foremost, seeing those (new) guys in Atlanta, they didn’t play, but they got there right after the trade and they just said they want to win.

“You can tell when somebody says it, you can tell when somebody means it. They really meant it and it felt good to have that there.”

In Los Angeles, Love was having fun working with the other guy who seemed to be everywhere all weekend, comedian Kevin Hart. Love was working with Hart on the Mountain Dew Kickstart “Closer Than Courtside” Contest – a nationwide search to find Hart new “CourtsideKick” where fans tell Hart on social media why they think they’re courtside ready for a chance to sit with him during the NBA Playoffs.

“I’ve been drinking Code Red Mountain Dew, and Baja Blast forever,” Love said of this partnership. “My friend and I were just talking about how long we’ve been drinking Code Red, which is kind of a throwback flavor now.”

He’s just drinking it with his right hand. His left — his off, non-shooting hand — is still in that soft cast.

But having been down the injury road before, Love knows what it takes to get back.

“Just look at it from an optimistic point of view,” Love said of his mental process. “Even last year I missed the New Orleans All-Star Game because I just had my knee scoped, so just knowing that I’ve been there before, knowing that I’ve had success coming back, and just getting over that mental hurdle of coming back from an injury.

“Looking at it glass half full, it’s my left hand, so I can still do a ton of stuff out there on the floor and be ready to play in a month.”

A ton of stuff includes both cardio work and being able to do some strength and lifting with bands so that when the cast does come off his return to the court is faster. Once he gets there, Love expects that even with the new players he’ll be back in the same roles playing both the four and a lot at the five with these smaller, speedier lineups.

“I know we will supplement different guys in the lineup,” Love said. “I’ll hopefully be able to come back quite easily, I’ll have my legs under me — like I said, just because it’s my left hand — and I’ll be able to get back into rhythm here really fast.”

The Cavaliers hope so, too.