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Grading the Blake Griffin Trade: Clips Nation Roundtable

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Some of Clips Nation’s writers came together to give their thoughts on the Blake Griffin trade.

Boston Celtics v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Skeptics:

Erik Olsgaard: C-

In my class, the grade isn’t just about the scores on a test, it’s about behavior in the classroom too. If we’re talking purely about the players traded, and what the Clippers got in return, then I’d give the trade a B+. Tobias Harris is a legitimate scorer, with a nearly identical TS% to Blake Griffin (mostly due to his sharpshooting from deep). Sure, he’s a worse rebounder/passer, but he’s on a very reasonable $64M/4yrs contract ending at the end of next season. Avery Bradley has been one of my favorite players for a while, consistently a top defensive guard who had developed into an efficient scorer until this year. But mostly, he just does the right things (on the court...ahem). Boban Marjanovic will be a great second mascot, and you can’t shake your head at a (protected) first round pick and a second round pick. It’s not the worst haul you could get for Blake, if we’re talking purely about the players traded. But we’re not.

The Clippers getting the first pick in the draft that got them Blake Griffin was THE defining moment for the franchise. I remember where I was at work when my friend texted me, “Well, looks like you guys got Blake Griffin.” Blake brought legitimacy to a franchise that only briefly flirted with it previously. Blake brought the idea that someone like Chris Paul would actually want to play for the team. And the combination of Blake and Chris brought Doc Rivers, known at the time as one of the top 3 coaches in the league. And the combination of Blake, Chris, and Doc brought so much media attention to the Clippers that a disgusting owner like Donald Sterling could never survive. And then Steve Ballmer came in, and we were all sure that the Clippers of old would never be seen again. But with this trade, all of that evaporates. There’s no history, there’s no pride, and there’s no loyalty. No, the Clippers don’t technically owe Blake anything, and yes, he’ll still get his $173M. But the Clippers didn’t need to tell him he was going to retire as the face of the franchise in June, only to trade him away so unceremoniously in January. If this were Game of Thrones, that’s something Little Finger would do (which is my nickname for Lawrence Frank from now on). So, if we’re talking purely about the morality of the trade, then I’d give this trade an F. Averaging that F with the B+ from before gives a C-, which is my overall grade.

boltsfan21: F

No, that doesn’t stand for “fail.” It’s for the other thing F stands for. F everything for giving me no real reason to care about Clippers basketball for at least the next two years, and probably a lot longer.

Oh, and while I’m at it: F you, basketball gods, for continuing to nut-punch Clippers fans even after delivering us two superstars, with your excruciatingly timed injuries and playoff collapses. F you, Jared Dudley and Spencer Hawes, for coming to the Clippers and immediately sucking. F you, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green, for being who are you and not who everyone always deludes themselves into thinking you can be. F you, Doc Rivers, for not creating a fully functioning front office quickly enough to take advantage of the opportunity you were given. F you, NBA Players Association, for refusing to agree to cap smoothing, allowing the Warriors to double-up on their insane Curry luck with a one-year salary-cap reprieve at exactly the wrong time. F you, Kevin Durant, for taking advantage of that timing and ruining the NBA with your cowardice.

F you, Chris Paul, for bailing. F you, Blake Griffin’s legs, for bailing at least once every season. F you, Lou Williams, for sucking me in again this season, only to get the rug pulled out from under me one last time.

But most of all, F *me* for thinking it would be any different this time. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for 40 straight years, shame on me.

Max Jeffrey: B-

It almost feels sacrilegious to give this trade anything less than an F because of the emotional gravity of it all. I must start out by reinforcing that Blake Griffin has meant more to Clippers fans than any other player has in the organization’s history. Griffin’s arrival was a beacon of hope for a franchise that didn’t have a very proud past — and ultimately, he delivered. While he never brought a championship to LA, he made the Clippers really, really fun. He was the impetus for Lob City, bringing a must-watch performance every night. And his work ethic was unparalleled; while his numerous injuries might have significantly curtailed the NBA career of anyone else in his shoes, he found ways to develop every part of his game not predicated upon athleticism. Griffin has evolved into a multi-faceted offensive threat, capable of playing in a variety of systems and roles. Blake Griffin is still a very good NBA player, and he is going to be missed dearly.

Now, for the reality of the trade…

Following a front office shakeup this summer, the Clippers spent a great deal of time and energy evaluating the direction of the team. Perhaps signing Griffin to a 5-year max contract and promising Clipper-for-life stature just six months ago wasn’t the most ideal start to that future, but the Clippers now have a wide variety of options going forward. The Clippers leveraged Griffin’s talent into two draft picks as well as rotation players that may either prove to be helpful on the court, or net further picks and talent. They have remained competitive while getting younger, and they will have tremendous cap flexibility beginning in the summer of 2019. They won’t face a future where they are handicapped by the salary of a single player whose ability to remain on the floor in a meaningful way is questionable, essentially approximating a blank slate.

It was a tough pill to swallow for the Clippers and their fans, but the newly-fortified front office, receiving the guidance of Jerry West, should not be doubted. Only time will tell if this was the right move for either team, but for now, Clippers fans will probably still need some more time to continue to process it all.

The Optimists:

Jonathan Hu: B+

The more I think about it, the more I’m fine with this trade. Blake will be paid maximum money for four more years, but I’m not sure he can be relied on to stay healthy enough to anchor the team. The last four years have seen Blake injured for stretches of time (some longer than others), and I think objectively it has to be concerning. Finding a team to take a max contract while still extracting some pieces and draft capital is, I think, harder than a lot of people perceive it. Blake may be one injury away from being generally labeled an injury-riddled albatross contract rather than a young superstar with greater years ahead of him. The front office likely saw this year/trade opportunity as a crossroads of whether to (1) play it safe and have options going forward or (2) truly go all in on the next 4+ years through the traditional route of building around a big name that may/may not have peaked.

While of course the Clippers re-signed Blake (you don’t let a valuable asset walk if you can help it), the Clippers’ front office was evaluating its options and not dead set on a single plan. They were probably encouraged by the roster being 8-8 without Blake (including wins over GSW, HOU, and TOR), the rise/development of role players, and a Lou Williams-driven offense that sort of reminds me of Boston being led by Isaiah Thomas last year. I don’t believe either Thomas or Lou to be franchise players - they’re offensive-oriented players surrounded by a cast of players that can cover the other needs - rebounding, defense, hitting occasional shots, etc. - to be competitive. Going forward I think the Clippers can build a roster in the Celtics mold of having plenty of players that can contribute, eventually inserting one or two key players, when the opportunity is presented, as the center pieces.

Taylor Smith: A

The truth is that we don’t know how good this trade is for either side today. At first glance, the Pistons win the deal because they get the star player. The Clippers come off as losers because they dealt arguably their best player ever for some above-average role players and prospective picks.

There’s a ton of context here that needs to be sorted through. The Clippers have massively overachieved this year considering their injury woes. Even though a playoff appearance looked very realistic, the Clips’ new front office believes striving for playoff appearances accompanied by early playoff exits is not a viable long-term strategy. This franchise has been down that road for six-plus years. The Clips have played well lately, but the roster as presently constructed was never getting past the second round...again. So, rather than waiting it out, Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and co. hit the eject button.

There’s no telling what the future first-rounder the Clippers got from the Pistons will turn into, but having a possible top-10 pick in what appears to be a talent-laden draft is desirable. Without Griffin, it looks as though LAC’s own first-rounder will be another lottery choice. The Clips’ new brass seems to think that rolling the dice on two potential lotto picks in this draft was worth jettisoning their franchise cornerstone. The draft is always a crapshoot, but early indications are that the new brass has a keen eye for talent. Shrewd pickups like Jawun Evans, CJ Williams, Tyrone Wallace and ex-Clip Jamil Wilson are a testament to that.

Losing Griffin sucks, because he, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have defined the best era in the team’s history. In the span of about eight months, two of them are gone, and Jordan is probably on his way out, too. The abruptness of all of this is tough to grasp, but I applaud the front office and ownership for realizing that it was time to go in a different direction. We’ll see over the next couple of weeks and months what else they have up their sleeve. Plenty of fans will be turned off, and that could blow up in the face of the organization. The timing is strange, and the destination/return is/was unexpected, but it’ll be exciting to see where this thing is headed come summertime.

Michelle Uzeta: B+

The Clippers’ unloading of Blake Griffin’s mega-contract was a ballsy move that will benefit the franchise in the long run. Sticking with Griffin – despite his clear talents – would have kept the Clippers in limbo, stuck in a mediocrity of their own making. Not only do I love the fact that the Clippers found a team willing and able to take on Blake’s contract (as well as the baggage that is, and has been, Brice Johnson), but I’m actually not mad at the return. Draft picks aside, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic are solid pieces that, in theory, will fit the “push the pace, move the ball, scrappy” style of play the Clippers have been trying to adopt. Harris is a particularly nice pick up. The 25-year old is having a banner year, and had been leading Detroit in scoring (18.1 ppg). Overall, I’m okay with bringing a little Motor City to Los Angeles.

The Clippers will undoubtedly still seek to stay competitive and make the playoffs this season, but the future of the franchise is the primary focus. Clearing cap space while concurrently picking up draft picks and low-cost player packages will provide the Clippers with talented young pieces to work with, at the same time maintaining the flexibility to compete for big names in the off-season. Although Lawrence Frank, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Clippers, was quick to tell Fred Roggin this morning on AM-570 LA Sports that the Blake Griffin trade was not part of a “re-building”, but rather, part of a “re-structuring”, it’s clear this is a rebuild move. You don’t get rid of a fan favorite and the face of your franchise and try and pass it off as some minor tinkering. I’m sad to see Blake go, but I #TrustTheLogo.

Robert Flom: B+

I think this trade was the right one to make for the future of the franchise. Even when he’s healthy, the Blake Griffin we saw this season isn’t a $35 million per year player, and that’s not factoring in all the games he will miss over the next four seasons. Or the age and injury related decline that will assuredly strike as he reaches and then passes 30. Getting out from his contract, is, in the grand scheme of things, a win.

The Clippers even got a decent return. I’m not a huge fan of Avery Bradley, but he’s at the very least a serviceable rotation player, and the Clippers can still flip him to another team for yet more assets. Tobias Harris is a 25 year old fringe All Star player who the Clippers have for another year, and who they can lock up to an extension if they so desire. A 1st round pick in this loaded 2018 draft is another bonus, and the 2nd rounder is just the cherry on top of the sundae. I do wish the Clips could have attained one of the Pistons’ true youngsters like Stanley Johnson or Henry Ellenson, but this was still a good haul of assets.

The only reason this grade isn’t higher, then, is because of its timing. The Clippers are currently a .500 team (and that counts a loss last night that probably would have been a win with Blake), and not far out of the playoffs. This team has fought hard all season to stay in the postseason hunt, and I thought they deserved to try to make the playoffs together. The Griffin trade also portends future moves which might send away players like Lou Williams, DeAndre Jordan, and Austin Rivers, and I don’t want that to happen. This 2017-2018 Clippers squad was a fun, talented team that has been marred by injury, but I wish it could have been given a real shot for the rest of this season.