Griffin trade puts Clippers in position for a big-time free agent

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Suddenly, the Big Three is down to one. With star guard Chris Paul in Houston and face-of-the-franchise Blake Griffin traded to the Detroit Pistons, only DeAndre Jordan is left from the power trio that propelled the Los Angeles Clippers to relevance.

Jordan becomes a free agent this summer and could be gone, too, if he isn’t traded by the Feb. 8 deadline. Lou Williams, leading the NBA in scoring off the bench with 22.2 points per game in his 13th season, might be trade bait, too.

Griffin’s stunning departure on Monday — seven months after he signed a $171 million, five-year contract — has paved the way for the Clippers to have plenty of salary-cap room next season, putting them in position to snag a big-name free agent.

“With the future flexibility comes great opportunity,” said Lawrence Frank, executive vice president of basketball operations. “It’s going to be an exciting time, not just presently but also going forward.”

The once-beleaguered franchise has never lured a major free agent, just as it has never gotten past the second round of the playoffs.

“We feel we’ll always be an attractive place for players to come,” Frank said. “With the goal being that we want to be in a position to compete for an NBA championship, that flexibility is paramount in order to add the talent we want to add to the team.”

Exactly, Frank said, why the Clippers had to deal their resident superstar.

“As much as we valued Blake and all his contributions, we knew there may be a ceiling on the group as presently constructed and we were going to have to make some hard decisions,” he said. “We couldn’t be afraid to be bold.”

Still, the move appeared to catch Griffin and his teammates by surprise.

“I know he was shocked,” forward Sam Dekker said. “This is his team. This is all he knows. I’m sure he’s nervous and it kind of made him probably sit down for a second and re-evaluate everything.”

Austin Rivers, son of coach Doc Rivers, said, “No one saw it coming. I didn’t even believe it when I heard it.”

In exchange for their five-time All-Star forward, the Clippers got forward Tobias Harris, guard Avery Bradley and center Boban Marjanovic, along with draft picks.

“As long as I look around this place, I don’t see any (championship) banners,” the elder Rivers said. “And until we do that, we’ve got to keep mixing it up.”

When Paul headed for Houston, the Clippers got Patrick Beverley in return and acquired Danilo Gallinari in a sign-and-trade deal.

That hasn’t worked out so well.

Beverley has missed most of the season after having knee surgery in November. Gallinari returned Tuesday night from yet another injury, having missed 35 games this season with a variety of issues.

At 25-25, the Clippers are unlikely to win 50 games for a sixth straight season. Griffin played a major role the first five times that happened in franchise history.

But he was often injured during his nine years in Los Angeles, starting with a broken left kneecap that delayed his rookie season.

“You’re looking at the other teams out there and comparing yourself. If you’re not good enough or if you don’t think you can beat them or if you think you need more help, then you have to do something about it,” Rivers said. “To do something, sometimes you have to take chances. You have to mix it up and change it and see where you can go in the future.”