‘I wish the franchise success’: Pistons buy out Blake Griffin’s contract; he becomes free agent

Detroit News

Rod Beard | The Detroit News

After a divorce, one of the next steps is figuring out the financials, and then trying to find a way for both sides to move forward amicably

The Pistons and Blake Griffin are through the final stages of their separation, as the team announced Friday that they have reached a buyout agreement with Griffin, ending his tenure of three-plus seasons in Detroit.

The move clears the way for Griffin to become a free agent on Sunday — after he presumably clears waivers — and to look for another team to finish this season.

That new destination likely will be a top contender such as the Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Lakers, as Griffin looks to add a championship to his standout NBA resume that includes six All-Star appearances and five All-NBA selections.

“I thank the Pistons organization for working together on an outcome that benefits all involved and I wish the franchise success in the future,” Griffin said Friday in a team statement.

Subscription: Blake Griffin’s five most memorable moments as a Detroit Piston

Griffin, 31, who had knee surgery last season, has worked his way back to playing form, but he hasn’t shown the same athleticism that highlighted his stellar career, beginning with the rookie of the year in 2011. Griffin played in just 20 games this season and posted 12.3 points — a career low — and 5.2 rebounds.

More: Pistons flub the encore, post worst record in the East at All-Star break

The Pistons and Griffin announced last month that he would remain out of the lineup until the two sides could reach an agreement on a trade or buyout. The trade route seemed unlikely, with Griffin’s contract for $36.6 million this season and a player option for $39 million next season, and no team looking to expend draft capital with a buyout the more likely resolution.

Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that Griffin gave back $13.3 million in the buyout agreement and that the Nets are the favorite to sign Griffin for the remainder of this season.

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With the huge contract number for next season, the buyout for a reduced number means that the hit to the salary cap will be just under $30 million, which will give the Pistons a little flexibility in continuing to reshape the roster.

According to a league source, the Pistons will not look to use the stretch provision to spread that cap hit over a longer period — as they did with Josh Smith a few years ago. That means the Pistons are likely to have significant cap space for the 2022-23 season, when all of their current core of young players still will be under their rookie contracts, and the team can add to the mix with veterans in trades or through free agency.

More: Pistons’ eye-pleasing victory over Raptors teases true potential this team holds

The Pistons (10-26) are in the midst of a massive roster overhaul in general manager Troy Weaver’s first season at the helm. Before the season started, Weaver revamped the roster, with only four players remaining from last season. Last month, he traded one of those players, Derrick Rose, for Dennis Smith Jr. and a second-round draft pick.

Weaver continued the makeover by creating a starting spot for rookie Saddiq Bey with the agreement to keep Griffin out of the lineup. Bey has been one of the Pistons’ key pieces this season, along with the two other first-round picks, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart, and second-round pick Saben Lee.

Moving on from Griffin is helping to expedite the rebuilding process.

“As we stated from the beginning of our discussions with Blake and his representatives, our goal has been to facilitate a resolution for the future that maximizes the interests of both Blake and our team,” Weaver said in the team statement. “We appreciate all of Blake’s efforts on and off the court in Detroit, have great respect for him as a player and a person and we wish him all the best in the future.”

Inconsistent ride

Griffin has had an up-and-down tenure with the Pistons after arriving in a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline in January 2018. Earlier that season, Griffin signed a five-year max contract worth $171 million with the Los Angeles Clippers — and the quick trade came as a shock to Griffin, who had played his first seven seasons there. In the final 25 games that season, he averaged 19.8 points and the Pistons missed the playoffs, but he returned with a flourish.

In 2018-19, Griffin had the best season of his career, with 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists, with 36% on 3-pointers. He earned third-team All-NBA honors and his sixth All-Star selection.

That season, he had a number of memorable games, including a 50-point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers, 45 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder and 44 points in his first meeting against the Clippers.

The key to his ascendance was transforming his game from being primarily a dunker and post player to being an all-around facilitator who could hurt defenses from anywhere on the court. He carried the Pistons to a 41-41 record and a playoff appearance, where they were swept by the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.

Griffin missed the first two games of that series because of a knee injury, but he returned for the final two games, where he played through the injury and helped the Pistons make a better showing before bowing out.

“Blake has been a great representative for our franchise and for the city of Detroit,” Pistons team owner Tom Gores said in the statement. “His work ethic and his approach to the game contributed a lot to our culture. He has been a consummate pro and we wish him continued success.  I’m grateful for everything he did for our team and for our community.”

Last season, Griffin tried to return from a minor knee procedure but missed training camp and the start of the season. He played in just 18 games and his production dipped to 15.5 points and a career-low 4.7 rebounds before he shut down the season and had another knee surgery.

There was optimism that Griffin would return at full strength and be able to play the final two seasons on his contract at a high level, but he never regained that strength and athleticism that he showed in 2019.

“Blake’s NBA resume speaks for itself,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said in the statement. “He’s a player I’ve respected for many years from afar and it was great to have the opportunity to coach him here in Detroit. Contending teams will love to have a guy like him in their program, which is an opportunity he deserves at this point of his career, and we wish him the best.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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