Detroit Pistons owe Blake Griffin a lot of money. But they owe it to themselves to move on

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor | Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons and Blake Griffin are moving on from each other. Which is another reminder that Troy Weaver isn’t messing around.

But before we get to what this means for the team’s general manager and for the future of the aging star, let’s take a moment to acknowledge what Griffin did — and did not do — while a Piston.

Because it’s easy to forget how good Griffin was two seasons ago. How dominant. And how that dominance came after an evolution of his game, despite a significant slip in raw athletic power.

HOW IT’LL HAPPEN: Griffin, Pistons have agreed to part ways. But a trade isn’t the only option

It’s also easy to forget, or dismiss, how professional he’s handled himself since being traded by the Los Angeles Clippers, a team he’d signed a five-year deal with the year before they shipped him here.

That is no small thing. At the least, he gave the young players on the squad a blueprint of how to handle adversity, of how to go to work in a tough situation, a situation he didn’t create.

Try not to forget this in your giddiness that he will no longer wear a Pistons uniform — the team announced it would sit him until it could free him up, either through trade or buyout or some combination.

Try not to forget this because you’ve just watched Griffin run gingerly up and down the court the last two months, unable to jump (by his standard), unable to move laterally, unable to shoot anything more than line drives.

Griffin is nowhere near the player he once was athletically. But that apex happened before he arrived in Detroit in 2018 from Los Angeles. Yet he played the best ball of his career for the Pistons and pushed them to the playoffs anyway.

[ Saddiq Bey’s scorching shooting earns him NBA player of the week award ]

He deserves credit for that, for showing us what Little Caesars Arena could sound like with even a slightly competitive home team on its court. And while no one had any illusions that season when Griffin led the Pistons to first-round date with Milwaukee — the Bucks swept them — he gave the city a reminder of what compelling NBA basketball felt like.

It had been a while.

As it happens, the Pistons are playing compelling basketball at the moment, too. Only it doesn’t involve Griffin. It involves the future. 

Griffin understands he is not part of it here. He wants to play for a contender. The Pistons want to play the youngsters.

That both sides agree, and released statements showing respect toward the other, is helpful. The issue is Griffin’s contract relative to the state of his body.

The Pistons owe him roughly $76 million for this season and next. Considering he struggles to move, no longer dunks, and is in the worst shooting slump of his career, no team will want to absorb that contract unless Weaver spices it up with draft picks or a promising young player.

And that shouldn’t happen. Not only does it not make sense — unless team owner, Tom Gores, is hellbent on not swallowing the money in a buyout — it would undo the beginning of Weaver’s rebuild.

So, strike that.

Which leaves a buyout, which may explain why the Pistons and Griffin announced the impending parting now, a month and change before the trade deadline. It’s possible the two sides are negotiating as I write.

This would make sense.

Since the Pistons have to pay Griffin anyway, and since they know no team wants to take on that contract, and since they want to give Griffin’s minutes to the young guys — Saddiq Bay, Sekou Doumbouya, Isaiah Stewart — why not pay him to leave?

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This preempts any awkward scenario with a once great player watching from the bench. As I wrote, Griffin handled the trade and eventual rebuild with grace and smarts, helping out the young guys and providing a role model in the locker room and in practice.

But if the Pistons were to keep him but not play him?

That could cause issues. And, again, because they have to pay him anyway, they can pay him to leave.

Now, the Pistons have some leverage here with Griffin. They can use his motivation to find a new home to ask for a discount.

If he accepts, say, at least $15 million less, he would help the Pistons cap space next season and he would be free to sign with any team he chooses, likely for the veteran minimum.

Who would want Griffin in this diminished state?

Several teams that could use an experienced, tough-minded power forward for its second unit. A team like the Lakers, for example. Or the Celtics. Or any number of competitive squads that can afford to take a flier on a once-great player for little money.

Who knows? If Griffin’s knees improve even a little, and he can find a few more inches of lift, his shot should could get better.

Still, prospective teams understand the odds of him returning to his 2019 form are minimal. The Pistons know this, too.

And while buying out a contract this large is nearly unprecedented, it’s the best way for the Pistons and for Griffin to move forward.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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