Blake Griffin has said it multiple times this summer — whatever role the Detroit Pistons want him to fill next season, he’s willing to do it.
It’s his way of acknowledging that the Pistons are in the midst of a transition. Since January, the franchise has shown a willingness to take a step back to reach a more consistent level of success.
Nine months into the year, the team has moved on from two core players in Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, hired a new general manager in Troy Weaver and secured yet another lottery pick.
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With two months before the draft and free agency, the roster will undergo further changes before the 2020-21 season tips off. As the Pistons shed talent and experience, where does that leave Griffin?
The Pistons’ 31-year-old star has spent the offseason rehabbing his knee, and he’s confident he’ll be ready to go when the season begins. Even though he’s open to taking on a different role, it doesn’t appear that the front office will ask him to.
The goal for next season is to compete to win, head coach Dwane Casey told reporters last week. And it wouldn’t be fair to ask Griffin and the Pistons’ other key veteran, Derrick Rose, to take on a lesser role.
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“That’s not Blake’s DNA,” Casey said. “We sat down and talked with him while he was here, Troy and I did. We’re all on the same page. We’re coming in to compete. Blake’s coming in the same role, ass-kicking role he was in when he took off. There’s no going to be stepping back from him or with Derrick as far as their role of coming in, trying to set the tone to compete to win.”
There are multiple ways to rebuild a team. A full roster tear-down is one. Rebuilding on the fly by adding players via free agency and trade, while remaining competitive, is another. The Pistons have already taken steps toward the former by moving on from Drummond and Jackson in February. As long as Griffin is on the roster and healthy, the latter is theoretically possible as well.
It’s not clear which direction the front office will ultimately pursue. But if Griffin regains his 2018-19 season form, it’ll significantly raise the floor of next year’s team.
Griffin averaged a career-high 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists while hitting 36% of his seven 3-point attempts per game. He played 74 regular-season games — his highest total since 2014-15 — and made his sixth All-Star appearance.
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He returned to the Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center two weeks ago to continue his rehab. Casey said his workouts set the standard for the rest of the roster.
“Blake, we would be doing him a disservice if we ask him to do anything other than to come in and kick ass for the 35 to 36, whatever the minutes he’s in the game, on the court,” Casey said. “Again, the way he looked, he’s ready to roll. When he was in last week, the whole gym lit up. His presence, the tone he set with his workout in the weight room, on the court. It was great to have him in last week and I think he came in to let everyone know the sheriff’s back in town.”
Regardless of how the rebuild unfolds, having Griffin healthy is a priority for the franchise. He’s publicly embraced his responsibility as a leader, and his future value to the team — both as a franchise player and potential trade chip — can’t be fully realized unless he’s playing at a high level.
The desire to tank for Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham or any other player in a stacked 2021 draft class may be strong for some in the fanbase. The Pistons have several dominos that need to fall before they can realistically consider next year’s draft.
Beyond Griffin, the draft and free agency will go a long way in setting next season’s expectations. The Pistons have a core of young players including// Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Sekou Doumbouya. Griffin understands that the foundation of the franchise starts with him and his influence.
“That’s really been my message, just put the work in every day and not only work hard, but take that home with you,” Griffin said, “study the game, watch the game from different perspectives and try to advance yourself.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.