Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons have agreed to part ways. But a trade isn’t the only option

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II | Detroit Free Press

If last week’s Derrick Rose trade signaled that Troy Weaver wasn’t done shaping this Pistons roster, Monday’s news makes it clear that the Detroit Pistons are ready to fully embrace their rebuild.

The Pistonsare preparing to bring the Blake Griffin era to an end, and reached an agreement with the six-time All-Star to keep him out of the rotation until a resolution is reached, Weaver confirmed to the Free Press on Monday. Like Rose, the Pistons intend to help Griffin find a situation where he can play meaningful basketball. In turn, the Pistons are committed to their rebuild and wish to find more minutes for their young players.

“We’re obviously going through the restoring process,” Weaver said in an interview with the Free Press. “We wanted to make sure everybody is going in the right direction, and it became clear that Blake wanted to play meaningful games and he’s worked so hard to give some back. While we want to take care of him and get him in a situation where he can play those meaningful games, play for a contender, it also helps us to continue our restoring and see our other guys and get them opportunities in actual games to help their development.”

“He’s done so much for the franchise since he’s come here,” Weaver continued. “We wanted to make sure we took care of him, didn’t devalue him and start playing him for 10 or 12 minutes. That wouldn’t be fair to him, that wouldn’t sit right. We wanted to make sure we do this the right way and be in good standing with him moving forward.”

Griffin, who turns 32 next month, is the longest-tenured Piston and one of the last vestiges of the previous regime. Former team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy traded for Griffin in three Januarys ago. He led the Pistons to the playoffs in 2018-19, but has since been slowed by injuries. After missing most of last season after undergoing knee surgery, he’s averaging 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season while shooting 36.5% overall and 31.5% from 3-point range.

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Since being hired last summer, Weaver has aggressively remade the roster and brought in a young core of players for the Pistons to build around. Griffin doesn’t fit those plans. There’s urgency to reach a resolution ahead of the March 25 trade deadline.

“We’re ready for action now,” Weaver said.

While the Pistons will take calls on Griffin, the size of his contract will be a prohibiting factor. Griffin has one of the largest contracts in the NBA, being on on the books for $36.8 million this season and nearly $39 million next season with his player option. Here’s how the Pistons-Griffin split could play out.

Trade not as simple as 1, 2, 3

The best move for the Pistons would be a trade that brings back assets that can help the rebuild. The Pistons accomplished that when they traded Rose to the New York Knicks, acquiring a second-round pick in this year’s draft and a young prospect in Dennis Smith.

The Rose trade was advantageous for both sides. Finding a similar return for Griffin doesn’t appear to be likely. While Griffin has shown flashes of resembling the player he was two years ago, he hasn’t been able to do it consistently this season. It’s fair to assume he may not regain his prior form and his contract is very expensive for a non-lead option.

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Further complicating matters is that the Pistons want to help Griffin resume his career with a contending team. It shortens the list of potential trade partners, and it’s tough to envision a salary-matching trade that would benefit a team with title hopes.

“It’s just like with Derrick, we want to accommodate those guys to go to someone who’s ready to win a championship,” Casey said. “Closer to the playoff hunt than we are. That’s something that, it’s their right, our right. There’s no animosity from us and hopefully there’s no animosity from him about the situation.”

The Pistons could sweeten the pot by attaching a young player, such as Sekou Doumbouya or Svi Mykhailiuk, in a trade. This seems unlikely, as they haven’t shown a willingness to dump assets. The easiest path forward for both the Pistons and Griffin could be a buyout.

What would a buyout look like?

A buyout would be expensive, but it’s not necessarily a terrible option for the Pistons.

For one, it could save them some money. Griffin has a player option this summer and could theoretically decline it in a buyout agreement, but there’s no reason to expect him to willingly opt out of making tens of millions of dollars. However, Griffin could agree to leave some money on the table in exchange for the ability to pick his new destination, which would allow the Pistons to shave some money off of their books next year.

Outside of Griffin, the Pistons’ cap sheet is pretty clean. Jerami Grant is the only other player making more than $10 million a season. Seven players on the roster, not counting two-way players, are still on their rookie deals. Smith and Mykhailiuk could hit restricted free agency this summer, but neither appear likely to sign expensive contracts at this point.

It seems as though the Pistons have made peace with the fact that Griffin’s money will be on the books through the 2021-22 season. From a team-building standpoint, parting ways with Griffin now allows them to do right by him and help him continue his career on his terms, while opening more playing time for their young players. Doumbouya is a natural power forward and would be an immediate beneficiary of Griffin’s exit.

Weaver has shown that the No. 1 priority is leading the Pistons back to championship contention. Griffin embraced being a veteran mentor for this team, and now both sides have mutually agreed that it’s best to go their separate ways.

“He’s a standup guy,” Casey said. “He will be in the Hall of Fame someday and hopefully I’m around to see it. He gave his heart and soul to this organization and we as Pistons fans should thank him. I know, from a coaching standpoint, I appreciate everything he did for the team, for the organization and for the community. He’s done a lot for the city, for the inner-city kids, for the COVID push, to promote mask wearing and all those things for the governor. He’s a standup all around guy from that standpoint. All the Pistons fans should look at him in a big time, positive light.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

 

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