There is a rumor going around that the Detroit Pistons are considering trading Blake Griffin.
Here is what I would tell them: don’t do it.
If you’re Detroit, it’s not the most far-fetched idea.
Griffin had one of the best seasons of his career last year. He averaged 24.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.4 APG, looking a lot like his former Clipper self, while also stretching the floor at a high volume (but I would say efficiently).
However, Blake turned 30 in March, and has an injury history. On top of that, he has 3 years remaining on his contract, totaling over $110 million.
As good as he was last season, can he be trusted to be that good by the end of his deal?
This might be the highest his value gets.
The Pistons have only made the playoffs three times the past 11 years, and have not won a playoff game since the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. Even though they made the postseason last year, they were the 8th seed, and with their only major addition this offseason being Derrick Rose, how much better can they expect to be?
Their other good player, Andre Drummond, could be a free agent next summer (player option for 2020-2021).
The Pistons will have one more year under the status quo, and then have to ask themselves whether or not having Drummond and Griffin account for two max contracts is worth it.
Why not just rebuild?
The Case for Keeping Blake Griffin
The last year the Pistons won a playoff game (2008), they had the highest attendance in the entire NBA, with an average of 22,076 fans attending Pistons home games.
Things started to go south after that.
By 2012-2013, only 14,782 fans were attending Pistons home games (28th in the NBA); losing does that.
Even when the Pistons made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 in 2016, only an average of 16,515 people were attending their home games.
The team moved to Little Caesars Arena for the 2017-2018 season, and for Year 1, they saw an average of 17,413 people attend their games (19th in the NBA).
Now Blake Griffin hasn’t exactly put seats in the arena since he got to Detroit (fan attendance went down last season), but if the Pistons want people to come see them, their best bet is being a playoff team.
Making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference is much easier than the West, and by having Blake Griffin, the team was able to do so last year. Towards the end of the year, Detroit looked like they would be the 6th seed in the East, but after Blake got hurt, they took a slight dip, and since the race for 6th was rather close, they fell to 8th.
Detroit should be in the same spot they were last season, chasing a lower end playoff spot, but my question is this: why not make it a guarantee?
Yes, they got Derrick Rose, but I think a bigger upgrade would make sense at PG for the team.
The team was in reported to be in the race for Russell Westbrook, so I say this: go for Chris Paul.
Paul has 3 years remaining on his contract (like Griffin), and the Thunder have explored trading him too, but have yet to find an ideal spot.
Paul is 34 years old, looked like he was declining last season, and might never be the same. However, he’s better than Reggie Jackson, and I’d still take him over present-day Derrick Rose.
The Pistons would likely never be able to land someone like Chris Paul unless they tanked, and if they were able to come to terms on a deal with OKC, it would do two things: 1) give them an upgrade at PG, and 2) make the team a lot more interesting.
A team featuring Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, even at older ages, might be enough to start drawing in more fans if you’re the Pistons. Those two were a draw when they were on the Clippers, and even though they weren’t able to take that team far, they were two of the most recognizable faces in the league.
Now a core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Andre Drummond does have a few problems.
Even in the Eastern Conference, you probably would still be a first round exit for the next few years. Maybe next season with that core you could make a run at the 5th seed if everything goes right and possibly win a round, but it’s likely not getting much better than that.
However, I think the core would be good enough to make the postseason for 3 more seasons.
My logic is this: trade for Paul, then after next season, attempt to re-sign Drummond to a 2+1 deal. Why? because this season will be Drummond’s 8th in the league, and after 10 years, you can sign a max contract worth 35% of a team’s salary cap. Drummond might not be THAT good, but he’d leave himself a chance for more money down the line.
In addition to this, it gives Detroit the chance to line up the contracts of Paul, Griffin, and Drummond. They would then have until 2021-2022 to maximize this team and get people in the building.
Now at this point, you might be asking this: what’s the point of creating a mediocre team that you know won’t be able to compete in the playoffs, and will likely get worse?
Why not rebuild?
The Case Against Rebuilding
As outlined above, the Pistons haven’t been good for over a decade.
Now they could simply sell high on Blake Griffin’s contract, try to do the same with Andre Drummond before he hits FA (or let him walk in FA), and go full rebuild.
The problem with that is, you are guaranteeing at least 3 more seasons of not making the playoffs (and likely more). By going full rebuild, the team’s attendance figures will likely be worse, and interest in the team will wane.
Taking on the contract of Blake Griffin was one of the only ways this team could improve other than losing, and they aren’t much of a free agent draw anyway. If you got Chris Paul, you would be able to do the same thing again, and take advantage of the notoriously weak Eastern Conference.
Sports are still a business, and even if it’s just 2 more games, the team would be able to make revenue by making the playoffs. Do it for 3 seasons, and that’s at least 6 extra games you can cash-in on. Plus, the city would likely be interested in a team finally doing well.
I would say in most cases that a team in this situation should rebuild, but for a team that has sucked for this long, what’s the point in doing something now that you can do down the line?
If we have learned anything about the NBA, it’s that there will always be time to start losing and accumulate draft picks.
The new lottery system has made the tanking process a bit more challenging, but it’s still the surest path to bring in young talent to build around for a team like Detroit; it’s at that point you need good scouts and a great development system with an eye on building the right roster.
Detroit has a chance to be interesting for a few more seasons, and who knows when another Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul) would be an option for them.
They could either chose to trust their management to rebuild the team now, or try to draw some fans in for a few seasons for the first time in a decade by having a team with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
For this team, at this time, I saw they double down on the big contracts and push the rebuild back to later.
Photo above via Getty Images
Attendance figures via ESPN
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