Well, I can report with 100% certainty that my head is officially spinning. First it was Nerlens Noel, Jimmy Butler, or Gordon Hayward on draft night, then Kevin Durant in free agency, and then back to the trade market with Jahlil Okafor and Demarcus Cousins as the new targets. At this point, Danny has basically played “footsies” with half the general managers in the NBA concerning their potentially disgruntled stars. One of his newest flirts? Old friend Doc Rivers of the LA Clippers, regarding his stud power forward, 6’10, 250 pound big man Blake Griffin.
Who is Blake Griffin and why would he fit what the Boston Celtics are trying to do? What’s the catch? Let’s dive right in…
His passing. Griffin is one of the best passing big men in the game. For his career he’s averaged 4.0 assists, including 5.3 in 2014-2015, and 4.9 last season. To dig even deeper, Griffin ranked 37th in the league in “potential assists” (passes by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist) this season with 9.2, which would place him above multiple highly heralded guards including Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Dwayne Wade, and even our former 2nd team floor general, Evan Turner. Whether it’s an outlet pass, a pass out of a double team in the post, or as a pick and roll ball handler (!), Griffin has the entire package when it comes to finding an open teammate.
His rebounding. Say what you want about Jared Sullinger, but he was the best rebounder on the team last season and frankly, it wasn’t close. His departure leaves a (literally) massive hole in that category for Stevens’ bunch. Insert Griffin with a career number of 9.6 boards a game. He attacks the boards with aggression, strength, and an insane vertical. Void filled.
True “go-to” guy. Griffin has averaged 21.5 points per game over the course of his career, including a whopping 24.1 in 2013-2014. He’s proved he can shoulder the offensive load, and that an offense can perform at a high level going through him. His post moves could use refinement; his 3-point shooting (33.3%) and free throw shooting (72.7%) aren’t particularly impressive, and there are times he’s been criticized for being too one-dimensional and strictly a “dunker”. That all being said, the guy can flat out score, and at a far more efficient rate than anyone currently on the roster. Guys that can put up 20+ a game like nothing don’t grow on trees; Blake is a legitimate “go-to” scorer.
His contract. Griffin can opt out of a 21+ million dollar player option after the 2016-2017 season. Chances are, he’ll do that to capitalize on the league-wide booming salary cap numbers. Therefore, it’s entirely possible he can walk after only one year in green. Can Ainge and co. convince him to opt-in if he comes and/or re-sign long term next summer? If not, it could set the franchise back years. This is a critical question in the pursuit of Griffin.
His defense. Griffin will never be a first-team all-NBA defensive player, but he probably gets a lot more criticism than he deserves on that end of the floor. He’s not a rim protector, but he’s certainly mobile enough to be effective, and the effort is mostly there. The good news is that Brad Stevens should be able to “hide” or even improve on whatever defensive deficiencies the big man may have. It also won’t hurt to have Al Horford and his savvy defensive play right beside Griffin in the trenches.
Injury/character/fit concerns. From his rookie season-ending kneecap surgery in 2010, to his quad injury during the playoffs last season, injuries have hampered Griffin to varying degrees over the course of his career. The medical staff would need to do an extensive amount of homework on Griffin before giving up multiple valuable assets for him, but that goes without saying. Last season, Griffin made headlines by allegedly punching a member of the Clippers’ training staff, breaking his right hand in the process. Was this just a blip on the radar, or a sign of a bigger character concern/immaturity issue? Also, how does Griffin fit with newcomer max free agent Al Horford? I’d argue the fit could be seamless. Defensively, Horford can play the “5” and offer sufficient rim protection, and Griffin the “4”. Role reversal offensively, with Griffin spending most of his time in the paint and Horford stretching the defense with his range. Without Clippers mammoth DeAndre Jordan gobbling up space down low, I’d expect Blake to have an easier time creating on the block/getting to the foul line as the star in Boston.
My take: Well, it depends who’s available really. Are Demarcus Cousins and Russell Westbrook more dominant players? Yes, but there are major questions with them as well, and the price to acquire either would likely be close to prohibitive. No one really knows if they are even obtainable, and it’s widely acknowledged that Westbrook will be taking his talents to LA in the offseason. If Westbrook/Cousins are found completely unavailable or deemed unworthy due to the risk, do you continue to stay the course with the roster as constituted? Negative. I say you cash some chips anyways and go down the line. Simply put, if Blake Griffin is a Celtic at the start of the year, I’d be ecstatic and you should be too. He’s a top-15 player in the game, and would unquestionably be another tangible piece that brings us closer to #Banner18.
In Ainge We Trust.