Best Landing Spots for Blake Griffin After Buyout with Pistons
The six-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA player has agreed to a buyout with the Detroit Pistons, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday. The team had removed him from the rotation in mid-February while searching for a trade that was never especially likely to materialize. Griffin was on the books for $36.8 million this season with a $39 million player option on next season, making it exponentially difficult to find workable suitors and deals.
That won't be a problem now. A handful of teams are already interested in his services, per Wojnarowski: the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers. The New York Times' Marc Stein added the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers to that fold.
Which landing spot from that gaggle of admirers profiles as the best fit? Is there a suitor not on the list that makes a ton of sense?
The Athletic's Shams Charania and James Edwards III reported rival executives expect Griffin to end up with the Nets, but there's wiggle room for some imagination. Let's parse the landscape to see which rumored destinations actually make sense—and whether any dark-horse candidates should enter the fray.
It makes sense that the Nets are considered the foremost favorites to scoop up Griffin if he's prioritizing a ring. Their acquisition of James Harden has improved what was already a world-beating offense and vaulted them to the tippy top of the championship pecking order.
Gauging Griffin's on-court fit is less exact. Brooklyn needs a combo big who can beef up the defense. Griffin is a combo big who won't beef up the defense.
Still, the Nets also just need frontcourt bodies. They have Bruce Brown guarding, well, everyone for crying out loud. They've even dusted off a healthy Nicolas Claxton—switchable energy in a bottle, but not someone with the experience necessary for them to depend on him during high-leverage situations.
Kevin Durant has also been on the sideline since Valentine's Day with a left hamstring injury and missed more time previously in the league's health and safety protocols. Availability from anyone this season is hardly guaranteed.
Even a full-strength Nets squad can talk itself into using Griffin as a pseudo backup 5; his lack of backline protection wouldn't be as much of an issue against second units. The same goes for his dwindling explosion. A career-low 22 percent of his looks are coming at the rim. His downhill speed shouldn't hinder him as much versus second-string bigs.
At the very least, he'll almost never log a minute without one of Durant, Harden or Kyrie Irving on the floor. His outside shooting—31.5 percent from three, including 28.7 percent over his last 17 appearances—should improve by default.
Los Angeles Lakers
This idea that the Lakers need another big is weird.
Anthony Davis is sidelined with a strained right calf, and Marc Gasol entered the All-Star break in the league's health and safety protocols, but those situations are temporary. Los Angeles still has Montrezl Harrell and doesn't need to play dual-big lineups a lion's share of the time. Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and Talen Horton-Tucker can give them lengthy reps at the 4.
Starting Morris for the time being is iffy. But once more: This isn't forever. And investing a roster spot in another big feels counterintuitive when the Lakers' most important postseason lineups figure to feature Davis at the 5.
Then again, there is some weirdness on top of this weirdness. Harrell's minutes have ticked down in Davis' absence, and head coach Frank Vogel has yet to provide a concrete explanation. That leaves us to assume he fears how Harrell matches up with smaller frontcourts or refuses to play him too much without AD also up front.
Whatever the reason, Griffin would give the Lakers another secondary big man. They can easily shoehorn him in to the backup 5 spot once Davis or Gasol is back in the fold. And while he doesn't put the same level of pressure on the rim as Harrell, the ship hasn't sailed on his post-up craft, and he's going to stretch defenses further outside the paint when working off the ball.
Something else to consider: The addition of Griffin might embolden the Lakers to angle for splashier moves at the deadline. Harrell's $9.3 million contract can be useful as a salary-matching tool—especially if teams view it as an expiring deal (2021-22 player option for $9.7 million). Replacing him in full with Griffin feels bonkers on its face, but there is a limit to how much run Harrell will receive. Using his money to acquire another wing or ball-handler is worth exploration.
The Heat are not the same team they were a few weeks ago. They're noticeably healthier, albeit not yet at full capacity, and no longer wandering outside the top six spots of the Eastern Conference. They have won 11 of 15 games since Feb. 5 while placing second in points allowed per possession, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs.
But the offense continues to be far from settled, even with Kendrick Nunn providing some extra pop (until recently). They are 18th in points scored per possession through their recent hot streak, during which time only three teams are burying their above-the-break triples at a lower clip.
Some of Miami's warts will resolve themselves. Adding Blake Griffin certainly wouldn't fix everything. He cannot be counted on for the from-scratch creation, finishing or, heck, even floor spacing he provided in 2018-19, his last All-NBA season.
At the same time, he can diversify a frontcourt rotation that wants for depth after Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk. Meyers Leonard is out for the season after having left shoulder surgery, and the Heat don't have a Jae Crowder type to place at the 4 for more hybrid Bam-at-center arrangements.
Griffin does not have the defensive range to glitz up those latter lineups. But Miami could get away with using him beside Adebayo. He can also be predominantly used as a backup 5 in hopes of driving up the time Adebayo and Olynyk spend in the frontcourt together—a combination that has proved effective across a significant sample.
Why not the Milwaukee Bucks? They check the championship contender box, and what they lack in glamour market appeal, they offset with a crack at real playing time. (Milwaukee will have to clear some money to make an offer, as ESPN's Bobby Marks noted.)
Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis are the Bucks' only every-night bigs. The great D.J. Wilson hope appears to have subsided. Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo-at-the-5 combinations in its back pocket, but those lineups mandate someone else plays the 4.
The best realistic version of Griffin would inject palpable optionality into how Milwaukee runs its rotation. He can be uncorked as a full-on backup 5 who helps anchor the offense through starter-light stretches, and he could be a second big—Portis being the first—it can tap to play beside Antetokounmpo when Lopez is on the bench.
Assuming the responsibilities of a, let's say, second-and-a-half-string center isn't sexy. But Griffin stands to get more reps with the Bucks than he would with the Heat or Lakers. Even the Nets might have a harder time assuring him as much floor time. They have Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan and Nicolas Claxton, not to mention Kevin Durant-at-center compilations.
If Griffin can orbit the Bucks ball-handlers and knock down threes at a reasonable clip, he'd have the opportunity to grind out steady minutes. And if he provided anything more—downhill creation, post-up work, emergency pick-and-roll initiation, etc.—he'd be a potential swing factor.
Portland Trail Blazers
Blake Griffin's prospective fit with the Blazers is less about function and more about availability. They need bodies in the frontcourt—period.
Zach Collins (ankle), Harry Giles (calf) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) entered the All-Star break on the shelf, which has left Enes Kanter (playing well!) to slide into the starting center spot. Portland is somehow fifth in the Western Conference after winning 11 of its past 16 games, but the situation is light-years from tenable.
Landing Griffin wouldn't do anything to address the defense. The Blazers are 22nd in points allowed per possession during this run and still struggle to keep opponents away from the basket. Griffin stands only to exacerbate that issue whether they'd use him at power forward or center.
Who cares? The Blazers surely won't. They have liberally rolled out Kanter and Carmelo Anthony in the same units. Griffin would have a better chance of getting by on defense if he's deployed as the backup center and if Portland becomes more inclined to replace Rodney Hood's minutes with Derrick Jones Jr. reps.
Whether Griffin views Portland as a viable contender is a separate issue. Finding his way to a title hopeful is seemingly at the top of his list, and the Blazers forecast as a tier below the Lakers, Clippers and Utah Jazz even at their peak.
Access to playing time should count for something, though. The Blazers will have room for him in the rotation even after Nurkic returns, and the bandwidth they've carved out to let Melo be Melo should assuage any concerns Griffin would have about the number and types of touches he would get.