With Blake Griffin expected to be out at least another month due to the fractured hand he suffered while punching a Clippers equipment manager, the Clippers are "trying to get rid of him," according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. Smith broke that news Saturday on ESPN Radio, though he did add that nothing is imminent.
However, with Thursday's trade deadline fast approaching, the team is making Griffin available, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, who lists Atlanta, Boston and New York (in a swap for Carmelo Anthony) as possible landing spots. Clippers head coach and president Doc Rivers even called the Nuggets to offer them Griffin, as well as guard Lance Stephenson, in exchange for a package of Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard.
Griffin, 26, is averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season, though he's only played in 30 games. He partially tore his quadriceps in late December and was out for more than a month before getting into an altercation at a Toronto restaurant with his friend and team staffer, Matias Tessi. Griffin broke his right hand in the fight and the initial diagnosis was that he would miss four to six weeks. The Clippers also announced last week that they were suspending him four games for the incident, and that the suspension would be enforced upon his return from injury.
Since the incident, Rivers has publicly supported Griffin.
Doc Rivers: "Blake's ours and he's going to stay ours."— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) February 5, 2016
But if the latest reports are to be believed, Rivers is taking a different stance behind closed doors. Are the Clippers really ready to deal their superstar power forward?
Why the Clippers will trade Griffin
For one, they're 17-5 without him this season. That doesn't necessarily mean they're better off with him on the bench going forward, but it is easy to draw up a scenario where a team built around Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan pick-and-rolls, J.J. Redick spotting up across the perimeter and whatever assets they could net in a Griffin deal (such as a capable wing defender) morphs the Clippers into a more well-balanced and potent team.
Right now, the Clippers are 35-18, a respectable record good enough for fourth in the Western Conference. The problem is that L.A. has yet to show that it can compete with the dominant Warriors or Spurs. The Clippers have failed to make it out of the second round of the playoffs for two straight years, and in an October conversation with ESPN's Zach Lowe, Rivers admitted that a third straight disappointing finish would force his hand and get him to start looking at flipping one of his three stars.
Given the Clippers' current situation, it's hard to conceive a way in which, as currently constructed, the team surprises everyone and reaches the conference finals. With that in mind, Rivers might be surveying the landscape and deciding that he's better off getting a head start and trading Griffin now in an attempt to salvage this season, in addition to rebuilding his core.
Griffin's presence has only improved the Clippers by about one point per 100 possessions this season, per NBA.com. The offense is still strong and the defense is actually better without him on the floor.
There's also the reality that despite all the off-court drama, Griffin remains the Clippers' most valuable trade chip. If Rivers is truly committed to the idea of breaking up his Big Three if they fall short once again, trading Griffin before Thursday's trade deadline would net the biggest return. That Griffin can opt out of his current deal following the 2017 season puts Rivers on the clock and means that Griffin's value may never be higher than it is now.
Why the Clippers won't trade Griffin
Because he's still a 26-year-old stud who can carry a team and puts butts in the seats. That's reason enough. He's a versatile offensive machine who'd make almost every team in the league better. He's exactly the type of player a team like the Clippers should be building around, not shipping out.
Rivers also has to ask himself whether any move makes much of a difference this season with the Warriors, Spurs and even Thunder playing some of the best basketball we've seen over the past decade. Would bringing in a bundle of solid, but unspectacular role players vaunt the Clippers into that category? If not, Rivers and the team would be better off playing out the season without making any major moves, hoping Griffin's near-postseason return provides a boost and then reassessing in the offseason.
Even if the Clippers are better this season without Griffin, that's unlikely to continue as Paul ages. If the Clippers decide on a major shake-up, trading the 31-year-old Paul would be better for the team's long-term outlook than dealing the 26-year-old Griffin.
Rash decisions during volatile times rarely play out well. Trading Griffin now would be an example of a general manager overreacting to a bumpy few weeks.
When there's this much smoke, there's usually fire. The Clippers sure seem open to trading Griffin. The question is when.
As is always the case, it will come down to the offers the Clippers receive. Keep an eye on Boston, who could send Jae Crowder and a bundle of draft picks. If the Knicks could convince Carmelo Anthony to wave his no-trade clause, they are another option. A Griffin-for-Anthony swap makes some sense for both teams, but a lot has to happen for the Knicks and Clippers to get there.
Let's say there's a 3/10 chance Griffin is moved by Thursday's deadline and a 5/10 chance it happens by the summer.
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