Inside the Clippers’ decision to trade Blake Griffin and his return to Staples Center
作者 Jovan Buha 译者 利物浦快船拿冠军改名
After finding out that the Clippers’ trade with the Detroit Pistons was complete, Blake Griffin sent a farewell message in the team’s group text.
Hey fellas, I’m out of here. Loved playing with you guys. Good luck to you guys except for when we play y’all.
His phone began blowing up.
Most teammates reached out individually over text or with a phone call, expressing a similar level of shock to what Griffin was feeling.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck?'” Austin Rivers said.
On Jan. 29, 2018, the Clippers sent Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed to Detroit in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first-round pick (which had 1-4 protection until 2021, but it converted this past summer and netted standout rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) and a 2019 second-round pick.
The Clippers and the Pistons pulled off the near impossible in the social media age: A blockbuster trade that didn’t leak or linger in the NBA rumor mill.
“If I didn’t see it coming,” Griffin said, “I don’t think anybody else would have either.”
The Clippers had officially concluded the Lob City era, trading away Chris Paul and Griffin in a span of seven months in an attempt to reshape the future of the franchise.
Internally, Clippers players didn’t know the direction of the roster with Griffin dealt and the Feb. 8 trade deadline a little over a week away. Rivers and DeAndre Jordan believed their departures were inevitable, whether at the deadline or next summer.
“When it happened, everybody was like, ‘We just traded away our best player. We just traded away Blake,'” Rivers said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Back in July of 2017, the Clippers had pitched Griffin as their Kobe Bryant, their Dirk Nowitzki, their Tim Duncan — a lifelong Clipper. Griffin proudly embraced that badge of honor. But then seven months into his five-year, $173 million deal, he was gone.
With Griffin returning to Staples Center on Saturday to face the Clippers for the first time — two weeks before the one-year anniversary of the Clippers-Pistons trade — the five-time All-Star spoke with The Athletic about the trade, his initial emotions playing against the Clippers right after the deal, his freedom in Detroit’s offense and the feelings of facing the Clippers’ crowd as a visitor.
The Clippers’ 2017 offseason happened out of order. Under ideal circumstances, the franchise would have revamped its front office in April or May, entering the summer with one of the deepest basketball operations staffs in the league.
But instead, the Clippers executed their offseason moves first — including trading Paul, re-signing Griffin and signing Danilo Gallinari — and then bolstered their front office over the following two months.
Jerry West was brought on as a consultant a week before the Clippers re-signed Griffin. A little over a month later, Lawrence Frank was promoted to president of basketball operations as Doc Rivers was stripped of the title and returned to coaching-only duties. Three weeks later, the Clippers hired Michael Winger as general manager and Mark Hughes and Trent Redden as assistant general managers over a span of a few days.
The Clippers entered the 2017-18 season in evaluation mode, assessing the fit of everyone on the roster with its long-term vision.
After a 4-0 start, ironically, a home loss to the Pistons started a brutal stretch in which the Clippers lost 11 of 12 games, including nine in a row. Injuries mounted, including a left knee injury that would keep Griffin sidelined almost four weeks, and the Clippers began to lose optimism over the future of their core.
Part of their pitch to Griffin in free agency had been that they would remain competitive around him. That likely meant re-signing Jordan during the 2018 offseason and tying themselves to a Griffin-Jordan-Gallinari nucleus for at least two more seasons. The Clippers worried that it lowered their long-term ceiling, especially in an increasingly perimeter-oriented league, and would only delay the roster teardown they would eventually endure.
With Griffin’s contract only escalating in annual cost and his injury history rearing up again, the Clippers began to wonder if they could deconstruct the permanence of the roster by trading him. By late December, with the team a few games under .500, the Clippers had come around to the possibility of a Griffin deal.
The Clippers initially identified the 2018 offseason or the 2019 trade deadline as the earliest times that they could realistically trade him. But then they spoke with Detroit.
The Clippers’ talks with the Pistons started off informally. But what became apparent, from the Clippers’ perspective, was that Detroit was big-game hunting.
Following an impressive 14-6 start to the 2017-18 season, the Pistons were on life support in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Stan Van Gundy’s job appeared to be in jeopardy. The Pistons felt they needed to shake up their core and make a splashy addition. Stars don’t typically flock to Detroit in free agency, and a trade made sense.
The Clippers pondered: How big were the Pistons thinking trade-wise?
The Pistons were thinking big — Griffin-level big. The Clippers, considering the possibility of trading Griffin at a later date, were now faced with the reality of a deal happening sooner than they had anticipated.
Over the next few days, the front office agonized with internal debate. The Clippers also weighed the risks involved with trading Griffin beyond just basketball.
Clippers fans loved Griffin, perhaps more than any other player in franchise history. He turned the organization’s fate around almost single-handedly. If not for Griffin’s historic 2010-11 rookie season, Paul doesn’t agree to be traded to the Clippers in December 2011. The Lob City moniker never exists, literally and figuratively. Doc Rivers doesn’t leave the Boston Celtics. The Clippers remain the Clippers.
The team also feared public backlash. You just signed this guy seven months ago, and now you’re trading him? How could you? Didn’t you call him a pioneer? Doesn’t loyalty matter? Season-ticket holders would renounce their tickets. The team’s lack of a superstar would turn off casual fans. After the greatest stretch of success in Clipper history, the organization would hit the reset button, trade away their homegrown star and take a step or two backward.
The Clippers’ front office had its first true test together. Owner Steve Ballmer and Frank were the two hardest to sell on the trade. Both held attachments to Griffin on a personal and professional level. After several late nights and early mornings of analysis, the Clippers finally determined that a trade with the Pistons was the right call. The Clippers prioritized two assets in return: 25-year-old forward Tobias Harris and a minimally protected first-round pick.
The sides negotiated for roughly nine to 10 days before agreeing to a deal. Once the trade was finalized, the Clippers had to face the most painful part: letting Griffin go and moving on.
“It was hard,” Doc Rivers said. “It’s not fun, especially when a guy wants to stay and feels like he’s part of the future. Then you call him — or at least try to call him. I actually never talked to him. He didn’t want to take any of our calls. And I get that. I’ve been around that, and I actually respect that. No problem with that one way or the other.
“But it is hard. It is what it is. It is a business at the end of the day. The team had to do what it felt was best for the team’s future. And I was one of the guys that was in on the decision, and I agreed with it. I thought it was the right thing to do.”
It is mid-December at the Pistons training facility in Auburn Hills, Mich., and the team just finished a quick film session after practice. As the players saunter out of their film room, they split between the locker room and the practice court, with most of the team’s young core veering to the hardwood to work out with player development coaches.
After entering the locker room for a few minutes, Griffin returns, shirtless, and joins Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Khyri Thomas in a drill designed for Griffin to pass out of a double team on the right block and find a weak-side 3-pointer in the left corner. Griffin goes through the drill for almost 30 minutes before heading back to the locker room.
He sets the example,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said of Griffin. “Just like now, how many veteran players would you see staying after practice working with young guys, doing different things?”
According to Casey, Griffin is the unequivocal leader of the Pistons. It is a burden he welcomed but didn’t always have to bear in Los Angeles, with the always-barking Paul firmly in the prime of his career and various outspoken veteran mentors around, including Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Paul Pierce.
“I’m definitely more vocal,” Griffin said of his role now. “I think I’ve done a lot more teaching. Not necessarily teaching, but pointing out things that I see this year as opposed to years before. Just out of necessity. I think our teams were so old in L.A. that every guy knew what we were doing. So it’s been a cool challenge to change that up and figure out a different way to lead.”
活塞队主教练凯西说到“他设立了一个榜样。你很少看到一名在联盟已久的球员在训练后留下来与年轻球员们加练。” 凯西教练认为，格里芬在活塞有着绝对的话语权与领袖力。这个责任其实他在快艇就有了但是没那么明显。当时球队有个永远在呼喝着队友的巅峰的保罗，以及包括比卢普斯 克劳福德 雷迪克 皮尔斯 巴恩斯在内的几名话语权较大的球员。
The Pistons run their offense through Griffin in a way the Clippers weren’t able to do with Paul, unleashing and emboldening Point Blake to his maximum potential. Griffin is one the best passing big men ever and has increasingly improved his ball-handling skills, shot creation off the dribble and 3-point shooting to adapt to the modern game.
“I never thought we’d go into the season running pick-and-rolls with Blake,” Casey said. “We kind of morphed into that. That’s been one of our highest PPP (points per possession) plays, him handling the ball in different areas.”
Outside of his 3-point shooting, which took a significant leap over the past two seasons after offseason workouts with trainer Noah LaRoche in L.A., Griffin has produced numbers that are mostly in line with his best Clippers seasons. But the way Griffin attacks and puts pressure on defenses has evolved since arriving in Detroit.
The threat of his 3-point shot has opened up the rest of his offensive game.
“He had to increase his range to really be considered a threat at the highest level out there. Now he is,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Griffin. “You have to be out there. You have to guard him beyond the line, and that makes it really difficult when he starts setting picks or playing with the ball in the pick-and-roll.”
It’s something that I worked on and I feel comfortable doing,” Griffin said of the Pistons running their offense through him. “And I think for our team this year and this time of the season, I think it’s been somewhat necessary. … I think I’ve done it in a bigger sample size this year, but it’s something that I’ve done in the past.
“It’s something I’m comfortable with. It’s worked pretty well for us.”
When the Pistons traded for Griffin, they were 22-26. By the end of the season, they were 39-43 after going 17-17 with him and barely missed out on the postseason. This season, the Pistons are currently 17-20 and ninth in the Eastern Conference after a 13-7 start.
The trade achieved what Detroit hoped: It gave the Pistons a face of the franchise, an All-Star and All-NBA-caliber player, adding a level of excitement that hadn’t really been around the team in recent years. Walk around the concourse and bowels of Little Caesar’s Arena, or browse through the Pistons team store, and Griffin’s impact is undeniable. He is a star, and the Pistons are fully embracing that.
“I’m very, very happy here,” Griffin said of his adjustment from L.A. to Detroit. “This has been a great experience — this organization, these guys, last year’s coaching staff, this year’s coaching staff. It’s made that change easy.”
Despite the commercials and dabbling in entertainment, Griffin has never cared for the public distinction of a go-to guy or face of the franchise. But that hasn’t prevented the Pistons from going out of their way at every turn to make him feel comfortable and show their appreciation of him.
“It definitely feels like home,” Griffin said.
Superstar trades have a checkered recent history. Many end up being one-sided. It’s too early to make a final judgement on the Clippers-Pistons trade, but the Clippers achieved the goals that they sought from dealing Griffin.
For the first time since the franchise began its turnaround roughly a decade ago, the Clippers have the assets and financial flexibility to dictate their future. The Clippers will enter the 2019 offseason with the opportunity to create upwards of approximately $71 million in cap space, enough to add not only one but two max free agents. The front office’s moves since forming in August of 2017 have all funneled into a coherent vision.
It was a good trade,” Rivers said. “It was a good trade for us. It was probably a good trade for Detroit as well. Blake’s playing well there. But I thought it was clear we just needed to make a change.
“It was never personal toward Blake. I just thought we needed to go in a different direction.”
Harris has actualized his potential and emerged as an All-Star candidate in Los Angeles — he’s likely in line for a max contract this summer. Gilgeous-Alexander was voted the steal of the draft by opposing GMs before the season and is brimming with the potential of a franchise cornerstone. He has already exceeded expectations by winning the starting point guard job. Both players appear to be long-term pieces for the Clippers.
Bradley’s play has been up and down, but his deal with the Clippers is non-guaranteed beyond this season. The Clippers can simply waive or trade him if they choose not to retain him. Marjanovic has continued his historically efficient play while becoming a fan favorite — spawning ‘The Bobi and Tobi Show’ with Harris — and he will also be a free agent this summer.
What’s more, the Clippers have actually maintained, if not improved, in the short term, exceeding all preseason expectations with a 23-16 record and a surprising fourth-place standing in the Western Conference.
“To me, I really think the trade has worked out well for everyone,” Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said. “I think everyone has achieved their goals out of the trade. We’re extremely happy with the players we got in return. I know Detroit is extremely happy with Blake. Blake is playing like the All-Star he is.
“When trades happen, they’re really hard. … Once you have time to settle in, I know those guys are overjoyed with Blake, and we’re overjoyed with our guys.”
As Austin Rivers and Jordan predicted, both were not brought back this past offseason. Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks, and Rivers was traded to the Washington Wizards for Marcin Gortat. Once Wesley Johnson was dealt to New Orleans ahead of the start of the regular season, every member of the Lob City era was officially gone in the span of two offseasons.
“That was the end,” Doc Rivers said. “I thought C.P. started it really, when he left. But what I thought that did, it allowed us to get a clear view on what we needed to do, and then we started pulling the trigger on all of them. So D.J., Austin, Blake, they all kind of knew that it was time to move on. Having said that, and I’ve said this before, no matter how it ended — or began, for that matter — we owe Blake and D.J. and Chris forever.”
The trade closed the chapter on the greatest era in Clippers history and one of the most frustrating “What if?” cores in recent NBA history. Had the Clippers found a way to make it work and kept things together, it’s fair to wonder what their current ceiling might have been. With the West’s landscape murky outside of Golden State, could the Clippers have been the second-best team in the West behind the Warriors right now?
“Yeah, for sure,” Griffin said. “It is interesting.”
Griffin pauses, gathering his thoughts. Then he continues.
“But it looks like everybody is happy in their respective places,” he added.
A few weeks ago, Griffin was scrolling through clips on Synergy to study how a certain defender had defended him in previous years. As he sifted through the old Clipper team pages, he noticed a trend.
“If you go to years past, it’ll say, ‘Not with the team anymore,'” Griffin said. “The whole entire Clippers roster was, “Not with team. Not with team. Not with team.’
“So it’s just kind of weird.”
No current Clipper has been with the team beyond June 2017. The lone exception is technically Luc Mbah a Moute, who played with Griffin and the Clippers from 2015 to 2017 before leaving for Houston for a season and then returning to the team last summer. Griffin understandably doesn’t feel a strong connection to the teammates he briefly played with — Jordan, Johnson and Austin Rivers were the only teammates Griffin had played with for more than half a season.
In a cruel coincidence, the Pistons hosted the Clippers on Feb. 9, 2018, a little over a week after the trade had been completed. ESPN picked up the game, making it a nationally televised broadcast, and it was clear tensions were still high.
“That was strange,” Doc Rivers said. “That was really strange. You could see, it’s just typical. It has nothing to do with like or dislike, but you could see our team wanted to beat him and he wanted to beat us. But that’s always (the case) when a guy’s traded.”
“假如你去查过往几年的球队阵容” 格里芬说 “页面会显示“这名球员已经不在球队了”当时全队的成员，都不在快艇了”
“那很奇怪” 里弗斯说道 “你可以看得到的。那是很典型的表现，无关私人恩怨，我们非常想要击败他，他也非常想要击败我们。但这种事情在一笔交易后经常发生。”
At the same time, Griffin sensed his feelings toward his former Clippers teammates were misconstrued last season. Griffin told ESPN that the Clippers were “just another team we’re trying to beat” hours before the game. He didn’t mean for the comments to be interpreted as shots.
“Seeing those guys over there, I said this after we played them and I know my words got a little twisted just because the changeover in that organization has been so abrupt lately,” Griffin said. “There’s so many new people and so many new guys. I mean, on that roster I played with what, maybe five or six guys? And that was for half a year.”
Six minutes into the first quarter, Griffin and Avery Bradley got tangled up and had to be separated as they were assessed double technical fouls. Following the game, a 108-95 Clippers victory, Griffin left the floor without speaking with or dapping up any of his former Clippers teammates or coaches.
“I was saying to somebody the other day, ‘I wish we hadn’t played them so soon after that,'” Griffin said. “Because I was so, like … as a team, we were trying to make a push and I was really trying to shape our team and having that mentality of ‘It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re going at everybody.’ And I wish I had had more time in between the trade and seeing those guys again because the emotion would have died down a little more, you know?”
“我记得我和一个朋友说过，我多希望我不会这么快遇到他们” 格里芬说道 “当时球队需要做出即刻的改变，我也想为球队带来一种新的思维方式，不管我们与谁比赛，我们都会拼杀到底。但同时我也希望交易发生后我会有更多的时间去让我的情绪稍微平复一些。”
Griffin’s emotions have waned since the trade and the first matchup.
The only remaining point of contention is Griffin feels he should have been given a proper heads up about the trade, according to a member of Griffin’s camp. Griffin maintained to The Athletic that he was blindsided on Twitter, as he told ESPN and insinuated to reporters at his introductory press conference in Detroit.
“I had never been in a situation like that,” Griffin said of his initial post-trade feelings. “I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was going to feel.”
As Griffin prepares to face the Clippers in his Staples Center return, he is bracing for another emotional reunion. He isn’t exactly sure how he will feel this time around, but he expects the outing to be far more positive and sentimental than the first meeting.
Griffin is most excited to see the familiar faces of Clippers fans, especially the season-ticket holders that he developed relationships with — on and off the court — over his nine years in Los Angeles. He is also looking forward to catching up with the Clippers public relations staff and other team employees that he hasn’t seen in almost a year.
“我从来没置身于这个情境中” 格里芬说 “我也不知道自己该怎么去想这件事情”
“So long and so much time spent there,” Griffin said. “It’ll be weird. But so much time has passed now that it seems like a little bit more settled.”
While reflecting on his time in L.A., Griffin’s verbal tone and pacing shift.
He is aware of the Lob City group’s annual playoff shortcomings. The injuries. The Oklahoma City and Houston series. Those disappointments frustrated him as much as anyone, if not more. But Griffin has decided to look back on his era with the franchise — with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers and everyone else — in a positive light nearly 12 months removed.
“I personally choose to look back and remember the good because there was a lot of fun. There was a lot of good times,” Griffin said. “There was a lot of lessons that I learned throughout that whole process.”
If the Saturday afternoon tipoff will be nostalgic for Griffin, it will be a celebratory display of appreciation from the Clippers.
Even with some of Griffin’s icy comments in the media following the trade, the Clippers don’t harbor ill will towards him. The franchise will honor Griffin with a video tribute, as they also did earlier in the season for Jordan and Austin Rivers, and hope the afternoon is viewed as a hero’s homecoming.
“Before Blake got here, this was not an organization that any team, any player wanted to be with,” Doc Rivers said. “The team had a losing history. And that’s just on the court. Off the court, we had the follies. And Blake, Chris and D.J. were the ones who started the rebuild of our franchise. They really are. And no matter what we do in the future, it’ll be tied back to what they started. So we’ll be forever indebted to them.”
Frank added: “Blake is one of the greatest Clipper players. He’s a big reason for the transformation of the franchise.”
In the first two video tributes, Staples Center cheered loudly for Jordan and Austin Rivers, with sections of fans rising for a standing ovation. The Clippers hope Griffin receives the same treatment — only louder.
“I hope he gets a standing ovation,” Doc Rivers said. “I think he will. Blake was not happy when he left, but he didn’t try to burn the house down. He didn’t say a lot of negative things.
“At the end of the day, hopefully he’ll be remembered as a Clipper.”
“我在那里度过了很长的时间” 格里芬说 “这还是很奇怪，但都过了这么久了，情绪也平复了不少。”
“我个人更愿意去回想那些美好的回忆” 格里芬说 “那段过程使我学到了很多的东西。”
“在布雷克降临之前，没有任何人想要来到快艇” 里弗斯说 “这支球队有着很失败的历史，场上场下都有着各种恶迹。布雷克，克里斯与德安德雷重建了这支球队，不管我们未来怎么样，一切都会与他们有关，我们永远都亏欠着他们。”