Blake Griffin to Be Held Out by Pistons amid Trade, Contract Buyout Rumors

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2021

Boston Celtics' Daniel Theis (27) and Payton Pritchard (11) defend against Detroit Pistons' Blake Griffin (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Blake Griffin era in Detroit appears to be over. 

Both Griffin and the team announced Monday that the veteran forward would be held out of the lineup going forward, with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that "the Pistons will continue to pursue trade scenarios involving Griffin, and talks on a contract buyout with his agent Sam Goldfeder of Excel Sports could eventually come into focus."

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver told Woj:

"After extensive conversation with Blake's representatives, it has been determined that we will begin working to facilitate a resolution regarding his future with the team that maximizes the interests of both parties. We respect all the effort Blake has put forth in Detroit and his career and will work to achieve a positive outcome for all involved."

Griffin added in a statement: "I am grateful to the Pistons for understanding what I want to accomplish in my career and for working together on the best path forward." 

Vincent Goodwill @VinceGoodwill

Blake Griffin wants to play meaningful games. The Pistons are in a different direction, with young players who need minutes. Therefore, an amicable breakup was inevitable

Trading the 31-year-old will be tough. Generally when aging stars—or former stars, depending on whether you think Griffin's struggles this year are a rough patch or his new normal—have huge contracts like Griffin, teams trying to deal them are able to make two types of moves:

  • Deal him for another player with an equally large and prohibitive contract. Think the Russell Westbrook-for-John Wall swap. 
  • Deal him to a team with salary-cap space to absorb the player's large contract. Generally, you also part with some assets like young players or draft picks in such a deal.  

Both scenarios will be difficult for the Pistons to make work. The former is tricky for two reasons. One, Griffin is really struggling this year, averaging just 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 36.5 percent from the field. He wasn't much better last year, posting 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting an abysmal 35.2 percent from the field.  

It's hard to market Griffin as a star at this point. A string of injuries have simply turned him into a shell of his former self, which included five All-Star Game appearances in his first six seasons. Maybe a new environment gets more out of him, but the Pistons aren't going to get a major return for him based on his play. 

It gets even harder to deal him when you take into account his $36.5 million contract for this season or the $38.9 million player option for next year he'll absolutely exercise. Even if you could find a player-for-player fit in a trade—let's say the San Antonio Spurs wanted to move off the struggling LaMarcus Aldridge (14.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 47.6 FG percentage) and were willing to roll the dice on Griffin, hoping he was able to work his way closer to his previous form—matching the money would be tricky.

Aldridge, for instance, is making $24 million this season. San Antonio would have to throw another player into the deal to make the money work. But most teams likely see Griffin as a negative asset given the contract-to-production ratio you're getting back.

Westbrook, for instance, averaged 27.2 points a season ago. The biggest concern with the 30-year-old Wall was that he was returning from an injury-lost season and might have lost some of his burst. He was still playing at a high level before that injury.

But the Pistons likely aren't going to be interested in giving up assets to get off Griffin's contract, either. They're in a rebuild. If anything, they'd likely prefer to be the team getting assets in exchange for using cap space to absorb bad contracts in the short term.  

Given Griffin's declining game and huge contract, the Pistons' task is equivalent to trying to fire proton torpedoes in an exhaust port. First-year general manager Troy Weaver is going to need some serious Jedi mind tricks on this one, especially considering the buyout route isn't ideal unless Griffin is willing to slash a huge portion of his salary. 

Bobby Marks @BobbyMarks42

Even if Griffin elects to give back let’s say $10M, Detroit would take on a massive cap hit of $32.7M in 2021-22. A buyout should be off the table unless Griffin is willing to give back at least half of what he is owed. https://t.co/L3sHutarRY

Dan Feldman @DanFeldmanNBA

With Dewayne Dedmon ($2,866,667) and Zhaire Smith ($1,068,200) already on the books for next season, Griffin's stretched player-option salary ($12,985,676) would put the Pistons over the limit of 15% of the salary cap.* *Based on the projected 20221-22 salary cap

It seems unlikely Griffin will want to throw away that much money. It seems just as unlikely the Pistons will want to dispose of that much money without getting anything back in return. And if nothing else, the looming possibility of a buyout lessens Detroit's leverage in trade talks. If Griffin might just become a free agent on the buyout market, why not wait it out?

It's a tough situation for the Pistons and Griffin, but one they are now committed to figuring out after Monday's news.