To most people on the outside, the Detroit Pistons’ trade to bring in Blake Griffin — a great talent, but a guy who has not been an All-Star for three seasons, has a lengthy injury history and a massive contract — reeked of desperation. Van Gundy and the Pistons thought they were a playoff team, but they had lost eight in a row and were on the outside looking in, so he took a chance on an expensive gamble that will hamstring the team financially for years to try and catch lightning in a bottle.
That’s not how Van Gundy sees it. He acknowledges the risk but believes he landed a superstar, one who can play next to his existing All-Star level center and turn the Pistons into a threat. Here is what he said at shootaround Tuesday, via Nick Friedell of ESPN.
“Our thinking was this: The hardest thing to do in this league is to get a proven star,” Van Gundy said after Tuesday’s shootaround. “It’s just very hard to do. It’s hard to do in free agency. It’s hard to do in trades. You get very few opportunities to do it.
“The guy’s a five-time All-Star. He’s been an All-NBA guy, [one of] top 15 guys in the league. He’s only 28 years old. We know the injury history — that’s the risk on it. But that risk was worth it because of the talent we’re bringing back.”
Van Gundy also said this was not about the losing streak.
“If we had won 10 in a row and Blake Griffin were available, we would have done the same thing,” Van Gundy said.
There is some logic to what Van Gundy is saying. If Griffin had been healthy the majority of this season, he might have made his sixth All-Star Game. He’s played well as the brightest star in the Clippers constellation this season, averaging 22.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. That said, his efficiency has dipped this season and the sense talking to teams that scouted him is that he’s lost some of the explosiveness that set him apart earlier in his career. With the long injury history and his age, it’s highly unlikely he gets that bounce back.
What makes people balk is the contract. Griffin will make $31.9 million next season and has three seasons of guaranteed salary after this one. Then in 2020-21, he has a player option for $39 million that you can bet he will pick up. Combine that with Andre Drummond‘s extension and Van Gundy has handcuffed himself as GM (and anyone who comes after him) with deals that make it hard to build a great team around the stars.
Maybe this works out — and maybe more important to ownership maybe this puts butts in the seats (the Pistons moved into a new arena this season and there are a lot of empty seats). Still, it feels like Van Gundy felt the season and potentially his job slipping away, so he made a bold move. They can clean up the consequences later.
Griffin tweeted this about the trade.