Harry How/Getty Images

Pistons pay big price to find out whether Blake Griffin is still a star

1 Comment

Blake Griffin arrives in Detroit a proven star.

He entered the NBA with the fanfare of being the No. 1 pick, the first top pick to eventually join the Pistons since Kwame Brown in his journeyman phase. Griffin raised his profile higher by winning Rookie of the Year, and he’s the first former winner of that award in Detroit since a washed-up Allen Iverson. Griffin made five NBA All-Star games by age 25, a feat otherwise accomplished by only Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers.

Playing in L.A., Griffin parlayed his fame into a budding show-business career. He stars in commercials, appears in movies and books stand-up-comedy gigs.

The Pistons haven’t had a player of this profile in quite some time, maybe ever.

“Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s elite players, and when you get an opportunity to add that kind of talent, you take it,” Pistons owner Tom Gores – who grew up in Michigan, but is now an L.A. guy – said in a statement.

The Pistons just traded a load – Tobias Harris and his team-friendly contract, Avery Bradley on an expiring contract, Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick protected only for the top four and a second-round pick – to the Clippers and agreed to assume the whopping $141,661,920 over four years remaining on Griffin’s contract.

Detroit gains someone with a monster reputation. Can Griffin still live up to it?

The endorsements might not come as quickly in Detroit, but nothing affects a player’s stature more than on-court performance. The buzz around Griffin and now the Pistons, who’ve struggled to fill their new downtown arena, will persist only if he helps the team.

Griffin has missed the last three All-Star games, a precarious trend. In the lasts 20 years, 18 players have been multi-time All-Star by their age-26 season then missed three straight All-Star games. Just two of the 18 – Al Horford and Rasheed Wallace – returned to All-Star status.

Here are those 18 players on an aging curve. Players’ first and last (or, with active players, current) seasons are marked with gray bars. All-Star seasons are marked with red stars. The three years between Horford’s All-Star seasons and four years between Wallace’s are marked with blue squares.

image

Players on that list lost their star status for numerous reasons, many of them suffering major injuries. But that’s precisely the point. In the last four years, the 28-year-old Griffin has missed 99 games – and counting. There are plenty of signs of his body is breaking down.

Griffin has compensated for declining athleticism with significantly improved skills. He has developed as a ball-handler and now 3-point shooter, and he’s one of the NBA’s best-passing bigs (behind Draymond Green).

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy has raved about Griffin’s passing ability, and there are shades of it in how Detroit has used Andre Drummond this year. Drummond has mostly stopped posting up, an ugly play that appeared to serve little purpose other than make Drummond feel involved. Instead, Drummond now often serves as a passing hub from the high post.

But that’s also Griffin’s specialty. Can the two coexist?

Griffin’s improved outside shooting helps, but it will likely take time to develop chemistry. Having lost eight straight, the Pistons are 2.5 games out of playoff position. This trade could jolt a subpar status quo, but that’s a tough ask while Reggie Jackson remains sidelined. More likely, Detroit spends the rest of this season getting Griffin and Drummond – and Jackson, once he returns – acclimated to each other. With many players under contract for next season and little maneuverability below the luxury-tax line, the Pistons could remain stable through the summer.

It all sets up for next season, which not coincidentally is the final year of the five-year contract Van Gundy initially signed with Detroit.

Making the playoffs this year would be nice, but next season is probably his make-or-break year. The Pistons haven’t won a postseason game under his leadership (or going back, since 2008).

This franchise is desperate – maybe for a spark Griffin will provide.

That probably contributed to Van Gundy getting ownership approval for this trade. But from Van Gundy’s perspective, if the surrendered first-round pick becomes an impact player or Griffin becomes a liability on his mega contract, that might be the next guy’s problem. Van Gundy must make it past next season first.

Trudging toward a murky future with someone whose best days were so far in the past rarely works out well. The Pistons need Griffin to be as exceptional as they’re touting him to be.

After hip surgery, Isaiah Thomas not 100 percent for start of Denver training camp

Getty Images
1 Comment

Isaiah Thomas didn’t want to have surgery at first — he was coming up on a contract summer and the point guard who was fifth in the MVP voting just two seasons ago wanted to prove he was still the same guy. That he deserved to get paid. But after missing the start of the season in Cleveland with a torn labrum in his hip, getting traded to the Lakers, never being himself and being a below average player last season, Thomas decided to get the surgery on his hip last April. He eventually signed a minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets.

He is still not 100 percent at the start of training camp, coach Mark Malone said on Altitude TV, via Chris Dempsey. Sam Amick adds that it may be a while before we see Thomas in action.

That has the Nuggets adding to their training camp roster in the short term.

The Nuggets are a team looking to make a playoff push this season (and if Paul Millsap can stay healthy and improve the team’s defense they should make it, even in the brutal West). Thomas — a healthy Thomas — boosting the Denver bench is part of that. However, Thomas is the poster child for why one doesn’t play through injuries or rush back on the court, there is potential long-term damage that is hard on the body and can be hard on the wallet.

Denver can wait, and if Thomas can be Thomas whenever he gets back, it could be a good fit in Denver.

Lonzo Ball will not be cleared for 5-on-5 at start of Lakers’ training camp

Getty Images
2 Comments

Lonzo Ball called having surgery on his knee this summer a “last option” — he had a PRP injection first — but ultimately didn’t have a choice. He’s spent a lot of his summer on recovery from his surgery, a partial removal of his meniscus.

When training camp opens, Ball will not be cleared to go 5-on-5, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on the Lakers’ cable station in Los Angeles, reports Mike Bresnahan.

Ball has been working on conditioning and getting stronger this summer, plus has undoubtedly tweaked his shot. However, it takes time to recover from a knee operation, and the Lakers have no reason to rush him back.

 

Things have changed this season for Ball and all of the Lakers’ young core. With LeBron James in-house, Los Angeles is a win-now team and all the young Lakers need to prove they can contribute to that today, there is now more patience for slow development. Ball needs to prove he can play well off the ball (he did that at UCLA) and that he has become more of a scoring threat, both with his jumper and finishing around the rim. His ability to move the rock and play at pace can fit with LeBron and the Lakers’ game, but the Lakers are not going to wait around while that slowly develops. It’s sink or swim time, especially for Ball with Rajon Rondo on the roster and Josh Hart looking all-world at Summer League.

PBT Podcast: Can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Can any team beat the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors this season?

It could happen, although the Warriors will need to participate in their own downfall, one way or another — an injury to Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant, the lack of regular season focus finally catching up with them, or maybe they become too focused on free agency the next summer. But just how likely is any of that to happen?

Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News, and host of the Planet Dubs podcast, joins us to break down how Steve Kerr will work to keep that downfall from happening, how he will keep this team focused, what DeMarcus Cousins means to the roster, and what it will take for the Warriors to three-peat — and what can trip them up.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: ‘His jump shot’s not going to define him’

Getty
1 Comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are expected this season to join Philadelphia’s Big Three.

No, not as franchise cornerstones – the No. 1 draft picks were already part of that trio with All-Star center Joel Embiid.

But as long-distance shooters, Simmons and Fultz went 0 for the season on 3s; Simmons, the NBA rookie of the year, missed all 11 attempts and Fultz went 0 for 1 from 3-point range.

Sixers coach Brett Brown said both players have put in the work needed on their jumpers, though neither player will ever become defined by his work beyond the arc. Brown said Fultz took about 150,000 shots this summer under the tutelage of trainer Drew Hanlen. Simmons has worked with his brother, Liam, a former college basketball assistant coach, at 3s and shooting from the elbow.

Simmons attempted just one 3 in the postseason and he’ll have to establish some sort of long-range jumper to become a serious all-around threat in the NBA.

“His jump shot’s not going to define him,” Brown said Tuesday. “At some point, it will sure help. But I have aspirations, ambitions for him where I want him to feature on an all-defensive team. I personally want to post him more. I look forward to using him as a screener and giving Markelle the ball and let him roll out of it, that Blake Griffin-sort of half-roll and go to dunk.”

Simmons also needed work on his free throws: He made 191 of 341 for just 56 percent.

“Imagine if he can score one more point, it translates to like three to five more wins,” Brown said. “When I look at how you’re going to do that, that’s one way that interests me, let’s just get him more free throws. Can you finish, can you be a better free-throw shooter than you were in the regular season? He has to be.”

Fultz, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft, is bordering on bust territory after just one season. His rookie year was derailed by a mysterious shoulder injury, a broken shot and confidence issues. He played the first four games, missed 68 games because of injury, and then was benched in the playoffs against the Celtics. The most baffling moment came when he refused to answer questions about his shoulder, simply staring blankly ahead and rubbing his head.

Fultz struggled with his mechanics when he did play, and his shooting form was widely mocked around the NBA. No one in the organization could pinpoint when Fultz’s form went awry, though he started experiencing soreness shortly after he was drafted.

Brown said he was part of a “Team Markelle” formed this summer to help get the 20-year-old back on track.

“When I see him now come back into our gym, you look at his swagger, his cocky side, his mojo, he’s seeking shots,” Brown said. “He really is not bashful. When I look at the actual form, there are times, from a posture standpoint, he’s a little bit backward. When you look at him rising up, or getting the ball in his shot pocket, sometimes his head will go back and he’ll play more in a fade-type fundamental that we want to try and correct.”

But if Simmons can’t shoot and Fultz can’t shoot, then how are they going to play together on a Sixers team that won 52 games last season?

“At (some) point of the game, is it the start, is it ending, those two guys will play together,” Brown said. “There’s zero doubt we’ll go through some growing pains as everyone expects and should expect.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports