Column: Loyalty is dead and the aftermath of the Griffin trade

Detroit Pistons' Blake Griffin smiles while talking about his trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Pistons during an NBA baseball news conference in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Loyalty is almost nonexistent in the NBA. If you weren’t convinced when the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas after he played in the playoffs with a busted hip and his sister’s sudden passing after this week’s events should seal the deal for you.

The Clippers traded Blake Griffin on Monday less than a year into the five-year deal he signed this summer. The long-time Clipper re-signed after Chris Paul skipped town to team up with James Harden in Houston.

The Paul trade was a gut-shot to the organization, all but guaranteeing a Clipper championship banner wasn’t going to be raised anytime soon. Griffin could have left Los Angeles for greener pastures and no one would have blamed him.

Instead, Griffin didn’t meet with a single other organization, choosing to return to the Clippers after a theatrical presentation that included a mock jersey retirement. Griffin could have comfortably retired as the greatest Clipper of all-time and fulfilled his goal of being one of sports greatest crossover stars in Hollywood.

On Monday, Griffin was forced to swap the bright lights and palm trees of Hollywood for the cold streets and decrepit buildings of Detroit.

Fans like to hurl Twitter insults to players who left their teams in free agency like Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. But if things were just a tad different, they could have been in the same position as Griffin. As soon as an organization knows a player holds more value elsewhere, they’ll move them for the highest return.

Fans usually only get angry when players put their best interests first. Sports is a business full of business people. Everyone: owners, GM’s, coaches and players are all looking out what is best for them.

It’s time to finally stop ridiculing players for leaving teams that would move on from them without a second thought.

But the trade is done, the Woj Bomb has been dropped and all we can do is sort through the wreckage.

The most immediate takeaway is that the Pistons tying a lot of their future, and millions of dollars, on an injury prone player. Griffin has missed almost two full NBA seasons dealing with broken kneecaps, ligament tears and stress fractures among other ailment. Griffin’s health is a worrisome trend. In 2022, Griffin is slated to make $39 million dollars. There’s no way Detroit is going to be happy paying that in five years.

Griffin’s injuries have robbed him of a lot of the athleticism that made him a nightly staple on SportsCenter. But that’s okay. In place of the human highlight reel is one of the more well rounded players in the NBA when healthy.

In 2014, Griffin was a top-three MVP candidate, as Paul missed 20 games with an AC joint separation. Since then, Griffin has only continued to refine his game. In the 33 games he’s played this year, Griffin has shot 34 percent from three-point land. Fine numbers; not great, but enough that opponents will have to respect Griffin’s outside shot.

What Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have been to rim defense in New Orleans, Andre Drummond and Griffin can be to running the pick-roll. Andre Drummond has transformed his offensive game, allowing the Pistons to run their game out of their center’s hands. Griffin is one of the best passing big men in the game, assisting on 20 percent of his team’s baskets when he was on the floor the previous two seasons.

Griffin and Drummond will fit together better than people think. When he’s healthy, Griffin is a top-15 player in the NBA. It’s just a matter of how often he can stay on the floor. And for what the Pistons’ gave up, it was worth a roll of the dice.

The Clippers might have done the five-time All-Star dirty, but Griffin and the Pistons can be a beautiful combination.

At least until Detroit is sick of paying that contract and they ship out Griffin to anyone with $40 million to spare.

Such is life in the NBA.  


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu.