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

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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.

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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.

2019 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The NBA Draft saw the trade of the No. 4 pick — twice — plus the No. 6 and 11 picks before the New Orleans Pelicans were even on the clock for the No. 1 pick. Listening to the buzz around the league, expect a lot more first-round trades, especially when we get into the 20s. It’s going to be a crazy night.

We will be on top of it all night long.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 1. New Orleans Pelicans:

Sounds like Cavaliers will draft Darius Garland No. 5 if they don’t trade pick

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The top of the draft has become clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

4. Hawks: De'Andre Hunter

What will the Cavaliers do at No. 5?

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Those follow-up reports emerged quickly and from multiple reporters. The Cavaliers apparently want to make it very clear they’re open to trading the pick.

For good reason.

My highest-rated prospects available are both point guards: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. Cleveland already has Collin Sexton, last year’s lottery pick, at point guard.

I generally favor drafting the best prospect available then figuring it out. Sexton isn’t good enough to justify deviating from that.

But this situation demands the Cavs explore trading the pick – or Sexton. Cleveland shouldn’t just blindly walk into a conundrum.

Still, it seems if the Cavaliers don’t find a trade, they’ll make the smart move and draft Garland.

Report: Minnesota trades up to No. 6 pick, sends Phoenix Dario Saric, No. 11 pick

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New Minnesota president Gersson Rosas has a reputation around the league: He’s aggressive. He learned in Houston to go hard after what he wants.

Rosas wanted to move up in this draft, and he found a partner, the Phoenix Suns. The Timberwolves will draft sixth after a trade with the Suns for the 11th pick and Dario Saric. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

This trade can work out for Minnesota, depending upon who they draft and develop.

Who will the Timberwolves pick at six? Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett will be off the board for sure. The Hawks, who just traded for the No. 4 pick, are expected to take De'Andre Hunter out of Virginia. Cleveland at No. 5 now is the breaking point of the draft but reports are they like Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt, unless they trade down from this spot. That makes Jarrett Culver the likely Timberwolves pick at six. Coby White, the North Carolina point guard, is another option.

For Phoenix, Saric can be a good fit at the four if they acquire a good ball-sharing point guard this summer.

Saric gives the Suns a sharpshooter to help space the floor. The Suns starting lineup now has Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Saric, Deandre Ayton, and they are expected to chase a veteran point guard in free agency. That has some potential.

 

Report: Hawks trading up for Pelicans’ No. 4 pick to get De’Andre Hunter

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As soon as they got control of the No. 4 pick from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans have been looking into flipping it.

New Orleans found a taker in the Hawks, who want Virginia forward De'Andre Hunter.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is excellent value for the Pelicans.

I’m not enthused about the No. 4 pick in this draft – especially for New Orleans. My top prospect available, Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, would be somewhat redundant with Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball. Reaching for another position would be even worse.

Instead of facing that dilemma, the Pelicans get a nice set of assets and additional flexibility.

The No. 8 pick could yield a player similar to whomever New Orleans would have taken No. 4. The No. 17 pick could could come just before this draft thins too much. That Cavaliers pick is top-10 protected next year then converts into two second-rounders.

By clearing Solomon Hill‘s burdensome $12,758,781 salary, the Pelicans project to open $29 million in cap space. There are plenty of exciting possibilities for spending that.

New Orleans – which landed the No. 1 pick in the lottery and got a haul for Davis – is having such a good offseason. The future looks bright with Zion Williamson and a restocked cupboard.

The Hawks clearly believe in Hunter. I’m not as high on him, but I like his fit in Atlanta between Trae Young and John Collins. Hunter will complement scoring guard Kevin Huerter as a defensive-minded combo forward. This strikes me as an overpay, but at least the young Hawks should mesh well.

This puts pressure on Cleveland, which picks No. 5. My next two prospects available before a tier drop: Garland and North Carolina point guard Coby White. The Cavs drafted point guard Collin Sexton in last year’s lottery. Will they take another point guard, look to another position or also trade out of their pick?