Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin is a Piston, now what for Detroit, L.A.?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Detroit trades for Blake Griffin, but is that the smart move for the Pistons? What about the Clippers? It was a trade that caught the NBA off guard. The Clippers had listened to trade offers for DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams, but not “Clipper for life” Blake Griffin. He is simply the best and most important player in Clippers’ franchise history, the No. 1 pick they nailed that turned the franchise culture around (there is no Chris Paul, no “lob city” without Griffin being there first, and along with a push from Mike Dunleavy Sr., forcing the organization to act like adults). Besides, they just maxed out the injury-prone Griffin, who was going to take on that salary.

The Detroit Pistons in a deal that sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, a lightly-protected (top four only) first-round pick and a second rounder, too, to Los Angeles. The move even caught Griffin off guard.

What does it mean for the two sides?

For Detroit, even though they got the best player in the trade in Griffin, this is a desperation move for a team that wants badly to be in the playoffs and right now is on the outside looking in at the postseason. Stan Van Gundy is all-in with this lineup. If healthy, a Griffin and Andre Drummond frontline could be one of the best and most dynamic in the league — although both like to operate near the elbows or higher and both like space to work that will be lacking with this roster construction. Also, both are good passers. The problem is they don’t have many people to pass too — the Pistons are very thin now at the guard and wing spots — and because the two bigs soak up so much of the cap it’s going to be hard to put enough around them to make it work. It feels like the Michigan version of what we’ve seen in New Orleans (before Cousins’ injury), where even if the two bigs can play well together there is a ceiling on how good the team can be overall with those two massive salaries and one guard (Reggie Jackson, in this case) taking up so much of the cap.

For the Clippers, Jerry West and Lawrence Frank got the retooling they wanted. This was a cold-blooded but smart move. For this season the questions are will they trade DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams before the Feb. 8 deadline? If those two are on the roster it’s not unreasonable to say the Clippers can still make the playoffs in the West — Los Angeles is 8-8 without Griffin this season (only 17-16 with him), and in Tobias Harris they added an underrated small forward who can hit threes, create shots off the pick-and-roll, is good as a catch-and-shoot guy and should get a little more spotlight than he had. However, when Chris Paul and J.J. Redick both got out of town last summer without looking back the rebuild should have started, and while they are late to the party the Clippers should move DJ and Williams and get on with it. This doesn’t have to be a Hinkie-like bottom out rebuild, but it needs to be a complete one (including likely moving on from Doc Rivers). If it doesn’t happen at the trade deadline next week, it will happen next summer (no way Jordan stays as a free agent). It’s time. (And while maybe the Clippers could free up the cap space to go after LeBron James or Paul George this summer, I have heard LeBron is not interested.)

2) Jabari Parker returns to Bucks on Friday vs. Knicks. Last season, Jabari Parker was back. The former No. 2 pick was averaging 20.1 points per game and forming a dangerous scoring combination for the Bucks next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then Parker tore his left ACL — for the second time in three years. From the moment it happened last February, Milwaukee said it would take about a year for Parker to return to the court.

Friday night, Parker will return to the Bucks rotation when Milwaukee takes on New York.

It will be interesting to see just how good these Bucks are come the postseason. Once Parker gets back into game shape, the Bucks will have a very good team on paper: A top-five player in Antetokounmpo, two other scoring threats in Parker and Eric Bledsoe, plus quality role players around them such as Khris Middleton and John Henson. If they can defend well for interim coach Joe Prunty they can be the team everyone at the top wants to avoid in the first round, the team capable of pulling off an upset. First, let’s just hope Parker can get back on the court and stay there.

3) There was action on the NBA court Monday: Celtics get game-winning three from Jaylen Brown to beat Nuggets. The off-the-court news overshadowed the games on Monday (as often happens around the trade deadline in the NBA), but there were games and one good one.

The Celtics were on the road in Denver and could not shake the Pistons late — despite Kyrie Irving scoring 10 of his 27 in the fourth quarter — and a runner by Jamal Murray tied the game up at 108-108. But then with :34 left, Boston’s Jaylen Brown nailed a corner three that proved to be the game-winner.

I generally like the idea of letting teams play out the final possession of a close game without a timeout (if you have a floor general you can trust to make the right play), however, with five seconds left this was different — Mike Malone and Denver should have called a timeout to advance the ball. After Denver forced the Irving miss Will Barton didn’t have the time to get up the court fast enough and get a quality shot off. The Nuggets had a timeout left, they should have taken it to advance the ball and get one clean look, as it was they settled for a rushed shot that had little chance.

 

Suns’ GM says there is “overwhelming likelihood” team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.