Chris Paul is leaving the Los Angeles Clippers to team up with James Harden in Houston, but Blake Griffin reportedly isn’t going anywhere. The All-Star power forward has spent his entire career playing home games in the Staples Center, and it seems he’ll keep gracing his hometown fans with highlight-reel dunks and big-time production while continuing to suit up next to DeAndre Jordan.
As first reported by The Vertical’s Shams Charania on Friday, Griffin and the Clippers came to terms on a five-year deal worth a whopping $173 million:
If you’re a Clippers fan, you have reason to be initially excited, though the joy may turn sour before too long. But if your rooting interests lie elsewhere, disappointment may reign supreme from start to finish.
Griffin had a chance to pursue more in a new location. Maybe he could’ve joined the Boston Celtics and played alongside Isaiah Thomas. The Miami Heat were after him, according to Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, and the fit next to Hassan Whiteside was always an intriguing one. And that’s saying nothing of the Denver Nuggets and rising star Nikola Jokic.
This was simply the safe choice.
He knows he fits well with Jordan, even if the rest of the roster is uninspiring. Given the bevy of players Los Angeles received in return for Paul’s services, it’s already capped out with precious few remaining slots to fill. And the depth chart, even with Griffin’s talent infused back into the lineup, isn’t exactly going to blow anyone away:
|Patrick Beverley||Lou Williams||Sam Dekker||Blake Griffin||DeAndre Jordan|
|Austin Rivers||Jamal Crawford||Wesley Johnson||Montrezl Harrell||Diamond Stone|
|Jawun Evans||Sindarius Thornwell||Brice Johnson|
|DeAndre Liggins||Kyle Wiltjer|
Let’s assume J.J. Redick flees to a new location, whether that’s the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers or somewhere else entirely. The Clippers don’t get many more impact players—nothing more than a solid rotational piece or two, given the complete dearth of funding—and they’re content heading into 2017-18 with this group.
Is that roster capable of competing with the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs? Of course not. It’s not on the same tier as the Houston Rockets or Utah Jazz (this could change if Gordon Hayward departs, though even the remaining pieces may be superior). The Oklahoma City Thunder should be better after the shocking addition of Paul George, as first reported by ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne. Ditto for the Jimmy Butler-led Minnesota Timberwolves, and it would be foolish to count out the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets or New Orleans Pelicans.
Point being, the Western Conference is loaded, and it may only continue getting stronger as we move deeper into the free-agency period, which officially begins at 12:01 a.m. ET on Saturday. What if Paul Millsap and other prominent Eastern Conference studs head across the Mississippi? Despite Griffin’s enduring presence, this may not even be a playoff roster. And if he gets injured, as he so often has, the lack of established depth also won’t play well in the postseason hunt.
Again, this was the safe choice.
Griffin knows (some of) the personnel surrounding him, and he’ll be greeted with adoration by the franchise’s fans. They’ll justifiably shower him with praise for returning after Paul departed…at first. But the cheers could quickly turn into jeers as wins fail to pile up as they have in previous years.
Is it a hot take to think the Clippers were also playing it safe by attempting to run things back rather than blowing up the core and starting from scratch? In reality, it may be little more than tepid.
Locking up Griffin isn’t a bad move by a franchise doing everything in its power to remain relevant. But it still handed $173 million to a man who might not fit with the new competitive time frame. Though he’s a five-time All-Star, he’s already 28 years old and has a rather lengthy list of injury woes.
Now, what comes next?
The Clippers don’t have the assets to make any more big moves this summer, though the haul in return for Paul did give them more draft picks (a 2018 protected first-rounder) and upside to play around with in the future. They can deal with a middling season and settle for playing the part of sacrificial lamb in a first-round clash with a Western power (if they even make it that far). But then they have to get good fast before Griffin’s athleticism begins to trend in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, the newly re-signed 4 is a malleable player.
For all the negativity that’s surrounded him in recent years (largely because of injuries), he has gotten substantially better in a number of areas. He’s a deadlier mid-range shooter than when he entered the league, and his post-up possessions, though unorthodox and ugly, have started to produce better results. Throw in his ability to handle the ball and squeeze it into precise passing lanes like a point guard, and you have a well-rounded individual who can function in almost any system.
Don’t take all this as a Griffin hit piece. It’s not. He remains one of the league’s 25 best players and could easily ascend back up the hierarchy now that he’ll have possession even more frequently and get to serve as the unquestioned alpha dog.
Returning to the Clippers isn’t a “bad” move for either side.
However, it’s most assuredly a safe one, and decisions made almost solely for safety don’t often lead to jewelry in the NBA.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
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