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.

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.

Report: Magic and Pistons talked trading for Nets Spencer Dinwiddie

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Leading up to the NBA trade deadline, at least two NBA teams talked about making a trade for Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. SNY’s Ian Begley reports that the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic had internal discussions about trading for Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie started his NBA career with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. After being waived following his only training camp with the Bulls, Dinwiddie signed later that season with the Nets.

That signing has proven to be one of the best finds of Sean Marks’ diamond mining process in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Dinwiddie has become a key rotation player. Last December, Brooklyn inked Dinwiddie to a three-year contract extension that started with this season.

This past summer, Dinwiddie was a key part of the recruiting process to bring free agent Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. Dinwiddie did that recruiting even though the addition of Irving cost him a spot in starting lineup.

Oddly enough, it’s the presence of Irving on the roster that could lead Marks to consider trading Dinwiddie. With Irving, Durant and Caris LeVert, that’s three players who need the ball a lot. And there is a lot of overlap in position there as well. With a hole at power forward, Begley posited that a Dinwiddie for Aaron Gordon swap might make sense for both Brooklyn and Orlando.

While no trade agreement was reached prior to the deadline, it’s possible that either Detroit (who projects to have $34 million in cap space this summer and needs to add talent) or Orlando (who needs offensive creators) could engage Brooklyn in trade talks this summer. It’s much easier to make a deal that involves big salaries in the summer when teams have more roster flexibility.

Report: Joel Embiid out at least one week with shoulder sprain

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NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters reports that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will be out at least one week due to a sprained left shoulder.

Embiid underwent further evaluations Thursday after being injured the previous night in a game at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those evaluations showed no structural damage. Embiid will be re-evaluated in one week.

That timeline makes it likely that Embiid will miss the entirety of the Sixers upcoming west coast trip, including games against both Los Angeles teams. Embiid’s absence, combined with that of Ben Simmons, will make it hard for Philadelphia to improve upon their woeful 9-21 road record.

With Simmons out due to an impingement in his back, and Embiid joining him on the sidelines, the 76ers have returned Al Horford to the starting lineup. Horford started with regulars Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson, and fill-ins Glenn Robinson III and Shake Milton in Philadelphia’s home victory over New York on Thursday. That group is likely to continue to open games for Brett Brown until he gets his All-Star duo back in the lineup.

Report: Clippers would like to re-sign Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris as free agents

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The Los Angeles Clippers will have to focus on building their roster around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moving forward. They locked up several role players to long-term contracts over the summer, but face two critical free agent situations this offseason with Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris. Jovan Buha of The Athletic reports that the Clippers would like to re-sign both players.

Harrell has blossomed into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate while with the Clippers, and will be one of the better big men on the market this summer. Only six to seven teams project to have cap space this summer, but all of them have a need for a player like Harrell. That means LA will likely need to pony up this summer to keep their reserve big man.

The Clippers likely face the same sort of situation with Morris. They acquired him at the trade deadline and gave up a first-round pick to do so. With several picks and swap rights pending to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the Paul George trade last summer, that was a heavy price for Los Angeles to pay.

With the team capped out and lacking draft picks moving forward, LA has little ability to replace either Harrell or Morris if they leave. On the other hand, it could push the Clippers deep into the luxury tax if they retain both Harrell and Morris. Steve Ballmer has the deepest pockets in the NBA, but every owner has their limits. In the end, everything might come down to just how the Clippers season ends. Winning a title, or at least making the NBA Finals, would make it a lot easier to pay to keep the team together.