Blake Griffin: 5 potential landing spots in free agency

Blake Griffin

Mar 30, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Clippers defeated the Suns 124-118. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With Blake Griffin likely testing unrestricted free agency this summer, where might he end up? Here’s a look at five potential landing spots for the All-Star power forward.

Following their seven-game loss to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard decisions to face this summer.

There are plenty of reasons to avoid “blowing it up,” but with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all able to become unrestricted free agents this summer, other teams around the league are already preparing pitches in the event any one of them fields outside offers.

CP3 has more than 200 million reasons to remain with Lob City, while Redick may have played himself out of the Clippers’ price range as the team’s fourth best player. Griffin, however, remains the biggest mystery among the Clippers’ pending free agents.

At 28 years old, Griffin’s athleticism is slowly but surely starting to diminish. He’s still in the prime of his career, but that prime has been hindered by season-ending injuries the last two playoffs, not to mention devastating postseason collapses when he has been healthy.

Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season while attempting a career-high 113 three-pointers, but only converted them at a 33.6 percent clip and missed 21 games due to injury. He has a decent midrange game, and when healthy, he’s still a top-15 player in the league.

The question teams will have to gauge — aside from whether or not he’ll actually consider L.A. — is will he stay healthy enough to warrant the max contract he’ll receive after missing a combined 83 games over the last three seasons?

Injury worries aside, Blake Griffin is a max player that plenty of teams would love to sign. Here’s a look at his five best free agency destinations this summer.

Honorable Mentions:  Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks

Blake Griffin

Nov 24, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) battles for position with Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and forward Darrell Arthur (00) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

5. Denver Nuggets

Look, I get why a team like the Los Angeles Lakers might make more sense here. But unless Griffin really wants to get away from the Clippers but also really wants to stay in L.A., a team with a more promising young core like the Denver Nuggets would make more sense.

While the Lakers have Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac to worry about developing in the frontcourt, Griffin could slide right into the Nuggets’ starting rotation alongside Nikola Jokic, giving Denver the best passing big man tandem in the NBA.

The Nuggets have the cap space to offer Griffin a max deal right off the bat, so if he’s looking for a fresh start but wants to remain the face of a franchise with a bright future, he could do worse than heading up to the Mile High City.

However, Denver has rarely been considered a premier free agency destination, rendering their path back to relevance through internal development and the trade market. Griffin joining the Nuggets would make them a playoff team, but he’s already had his fair share of first and second round playoff exits. If he’s taking a pay cut to leave the Clippers, why settle for a similar fate?

Blake Griffin

Dec 16, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) is pressured by Miami Heat forward Josh McRoberts (4) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Clippers won 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

4. Miami Heat

Unlike the Knicks or Lakers, the Miami Heat are one attractive free agency destination that can actually offer Blake Griffin the chance to be competitive, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference.

Between Pat Riley, the lure of South Beach and the allure of three championship rings, the Heat can never be counted out of any free agency discussion, especially with so much available cap room. Riley could dedicate it to re-signing his own pending free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson, but if one of the summer’s marquee free agents expresses interest, Miami would drop everything to make it happen.

A core of Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Blake Griffin might not comprise a championship core, especially if James Johnson and/or Waiters couldn’t be retained. But it’s a pretty dang good start in the East, and one that would allow Griffin to strike a happy balance between getting paid a max deal, playing for a competitive team, leaving the Clippers and living in a nice city.

However, as much as Erik Spoelstra revitalized the Heat’s negotiating power with a 30-11 close to the season, a Dragic-Whiteside-Griffin core wouldn’t be built for sustained success, giving them a very limited window to contend. Without another major piece, is that group seriously challenging the Cavs, or even the Celtics, Wizards or Raptors in the East? Probably not.

It’s also worth noting that signing Griffin would mean the end of both Waiters’ and James Johnson’s time in South Beach, and the Heat would also have to renounce their other free agents, waive Wayne Ellington and hope that Josh McRoberts opted out of the $6 million left on his contract. It’s a nice thought, but pretty much a long shot.

Blake Griffin

Nov 11, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the ball in front of Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

Thanks to LeBron James and Kevin Durant, there are two big narratives surrounding every marquee free agent now: Will he return home? and Will he join Superstar X to form a super team?

Blake Griffin returning home to Oklahoma would somehow combine both. Griffin was born in Oklahoma City, played for the Sooners in college and there’s no denying that pairing him with Russell Westbrook would make for a star-studded, high-flying dynamic duo.

However, as fun as this free agency union would be, there might be too many hurdles for it to actually come to fruition. Thanks to those massive extensions for Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams kicking in this summer, not to mention Enes Kanter‘s $17.9 million salary, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be strapped for cap space.

Even if they found a way to move Kanter, let Taj Gibson walk and allowed Andre Roberson to sign an offer sheet elsewhere without matching, they’d still need to move foundational pieces — like Oladipo or Adams, for example — to be able to offer the four-year, $130 max deal other teams can put on the table.

There’s also an issue of fit. Giving Westbrook another offensive weapon would be great, but the Thunder should take a cue from the Houston Rockets, who supported their facilitator with shooters to make his life easier. Griffin has a great midrange jumper, but his range doesn’t extend to three-point territory, further clogging the lane for one of the NBA’s great penetrators.

Blake Griffin

March 6, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) moves the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2. Boston Celtics

Turning his back on the Clippers would require quite a bit of sacrifice on Blake Griffin’s part, but if leaving behind a cursed franchise and playing for a legitimate title contender take precedence, the Boston Celtics are the most logical free agency fit.

The Celtics are a top free agency destination for Gordon Hayward, but the truth is they already have a solid 3-and-D wing on a very team-friendly contract in Jae Crowder. Boston’s biggest need is at the 4, which is where Griffin could easily slide right in to vault this team to legitimate contender status.

In the process, Danny Ainge would finally get his star attraction to pair with Isaiah Thomas, while also enjoying the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and the internal growth of players like Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

With Al Horford being in his early 30s, this team’s window to contend is now. Signing Blake Griffin would be an all-in move that addresses the team’s greatest positional need, and the Celtics could create the cap room to get it done if they renounced all their pending free agents (except I.T.), waived a few players on non-guaranteed deals and Griffin took a deal slightly below the max.

Blake Griffin might choose the money and the comforts of L.A. over Boston, but if contending for a championship is the No. 1 priority on his free agency list, few destinations can offer him what the Celtics can in the East.

Blake Griffin

Apr 12, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and guard Chris Paul (3) react during a NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Kings 115-95. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Los Angeles Clippers

Money talks, and in Los Angeles, it talks a lot. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, owner Steve Ballmer is committed to spending whatever it takes to keep Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this summer — even if it means handing out a five-year, $205 million deal to CP3 and a five-year, $175 million max for the Flyin’ Lion.

According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Chris Paul re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers is simply a formality at this point, as both sides have verbally agreed to a deal. Lob City will likely lose J.J. Redick in free agency, since he’s 32 and disappeared in the playoffs but will still hold plenty of value around the league. The question is, will Griffin want to run it back with the Clips?

Taking another team’s offer means saying goodbye to an extra $45 million, the only NBA franchise he’s ever known and the opportunity to further pursue his interests in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. That’s a lot to turn down, especially since re-signing both CP3 and Griffin — even with Redick potentially leaving — makes the Clippers a perennial 50-win team.

Are they serious title contenders in the wake of the Warriors, Spurs, Cavaliers and even Rockets juggernauts that have assembled? Maybe not. But in L.A.’s last two playoff series, Griffin was injured. From the mindset of a competitor, the Clippers’ “predictable playoff collapses” probably look more like “injury-related what-could-have-beens.”

The Clippers can offer Griffin the most money, the chance at a top-4 seed in the loaded Western Conference and the comfort of living in L.A., where his passion for the entertainment industry can thrive. In terms of the whole package, the Clips should have the inside track.

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