Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin broke his hand after punching a team employee in the face multiple times a couple nights ago. According to the team, Griffin’s injury is expected to keep him out 4-6 weeks (or the next 15 to 20 games).
This is obviously embarrassing. Griffin is the face of an NBA organization, a franchise player in every sense, and a very large human being who probably shouldn’t punch someone in the face. The injury is a harsh blow to the Clippers’ already paper-thin shot at a championship, but it could also have a wide-ranging long-term effect on the entire NBA landscape.
How? What if Los Angeles decides to move Griffin before the trade deadline? In the NBA, dealing a superstar in his prime is typically the worst decision any front office can make, and Griffin is most definitely a superstar smack dab in the middle of his prime.
The 26-year-old averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in last year’s postseason. For a month, he was arguably the best player in the world, a chiseled, coast-to-coast wrecking ball who didn’t need or have any breaks.
There’s basically never been someone his size who can pass, handle the ball and shoot as well as Griffin can. He’s phenomenal, and a team that has him is, generally speaking, a title contender.
The Clippers shouldn’t trade Griffin because he foolishly broke his hand and jammed his team in an awkward spot. Nor should they move on because he endangered their chance of making the playoffs. All this doesn’t help matters, but more important is the big-picture risk this news allows us to examine.
Also unclear whether Clippers will be able to welcome him back into the locker room after this.
Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Griffin have always been a hyper-effective regular-season fit that ultimately disintegrates beneath the pressure of a seven-game playoff series. On paper, things were never perfect, and in an ideal universe, Griffin and Jordan would play for separate teams, allowing each to roam free and not overlap on areas of the court where both are extremely successful. It’s no mystery why the Clippers are 11-3 since their five-time All-Star went down with a quad injury.
With Griffin on the court this season, the Clippers are outscoring opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions. That’s not bad by any stretch, but Paul and Jordan have net ratings that comfortably sit in the double digits, and LA has been fine without Griffin on the floor. That isn’t to say they’re a better team without him, but trading him for pieces that complement Paul and Jordan could be the smart play.
It’s increasingly unlikely that this Clippers’ core, as talented as it is, will topple the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder, let alone win an NBA championship. Of their three top players, Griffin feels like the most valuable. He’s younger than Paul and better than Jordan.
But within the confines of Los Angeles’ delicate context, Doc Rivers may want to consider placing his star on the trade block just to see if what he can get will improve his team’s short-term chances while adding a few future assets to their empty cupboard.
Griffin can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, which means the time to maximize a return in any trade is right now. Wait until next year and no suitors will be willing to exchange anything of supreme value for a possible one-season rental.
Is anything out there?
What if the Boston Celtics offered Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Brooklyn’s 2016 first-round pick? What if the Atlanta Hawks offered Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., their 2016 and 2018 first-round picks? What if the New York Knicks offered Carmelo Anthony and their unprotected 2018 first-round pick? What if the Miami Heat offered Chris Bosh and Justise Winslow?
Some of these hypothetical offers are more appealing than others, and the Clippers most probably still view Griffin as the untouchable centerpiece he is. But the Clippers would be wise to at least think outside the box, before the window on their present-day era closes, and they’re left with absolutely nothing.