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.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.