Has Blake Griffin Played His Last Game as a Clipper?
Everyone pick your jaws up off the floor. In what seems to be an annual ritual, the Clippers once again blew a playoff series lead. For a 5th straight year. Similarly non-shocking, and playing a huge part in their early exit, was Blake Griffin with an even earlier playoff exit for to injury, this time with to his big toe.
It was already highly unlikely that the Clippers would make it past the second round, where a meeting with the Warriors loomed, albeit a Warriors team they did beat in seven games 3 years ago. Oh how the fortunes of thee two franchises have changed since then. Make no mistake, this Griffin injury puts the final nail in the coffin. Griffin is in the fourth season of a five-year, 94.5 million dollar contract with that fifth year as a player option for over 21 million dollars. Griffin for his career averages 21.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. He is expected to opt out of his contract at the end of the year to test free agency or at least force the Clippers to give him a long term extension. Given how the last three years have played out, Griffin might be doing the Clippers a favor by opting out.
That statement may seem crazy considering Griffin (along with Chris Paul) basically made the Clippers relevant again. But let's take a closer look at his legacy in LA. The obvious reason if you're the Clippers to hope Griffin opts out are the constant injuries. This is the second year in a row that Griffin would have missed almost the entire playoffs after only playing in four games last postseason and three in this one. When a player that important and making that much money misses playoff games, and a pattern develops, it may just be smart financial business to cut the cord. Griffin is a tremendous talent, but someone who can't be relied upon to be available when it matters most. It becomes an even larger issue when you see that Griffin has only played in 163 of a possible 246 regular season games the past three seasons. That means he’s only played in two-thirds of the regular season games over that span. Griffin on average misses 1/3 of the season, typically misses the playoffs, and you want to pay him 21 million next year? Sounds too risky to me.
Injuries aside, Griffin hasn’t even been the same player when he is healthy. He’s still only 28 years old but his stats don’t give much hope for growth. Griffin came into the league making spectacular dunk after spectacular dunk while displaying effortless athleticism. The incredible dunks have disappeared from his game. He’s also seen a decrease in rebounds. Blake averaged 10.2 rebounds per game over his first four seasons. Over the last three, he’s averaged 8.03. It’s possible to blame some of that decline in production on the emergence of DeAndre Jordan as the best rebounder in the game. However also it coincides with three injury plagued seasons. Griffin’s points per game have remained steady so he’s still a reliable offensive weapon when he’s on the court. But he’s not one of the elite weapons in the NBA like his ceiling seemed to suggest. He’s not even the best player on his own team. On top of that, the Clippers haven’t exactly dominated even when Griffin does play. While the Clippers make the playoffs each year, they have never even reached a conference finals with him. It might be time for a small rebuild to find a way compete with the Warriors or Spurs.
When Griffin does opt out of his contract at the end of the season, he will get a max deal from some team and it’s hard to imagine that team will be the Clippers. Their number one priority will be to sign point guard Chris Paul who also has an opt out clause. Paul is the one of the best guards in the league and the team revolves around him. It will be interesting to see his opinion on resigning Blake. Maybe Paul wants a guarantee that they will bring in players he can rely on to actually play before he signs. That’s total speculation on my part but it would make sense given Paul and Griffin’s issues in the past. Paul turns 32 in May. He knows the clock is ticking on his career and he has yet to win a ring. If Paul re-signs, I promise that he will have opinions on the construction of the roster and his most interesting opinion will be regarding Blake Griffin.
If the Clippers don’t sign Blake, they might be able to sign some other big name free agent with all of that money. Maybe Kevin Durant opts out of his contract in Golden State. That’s not likely, especially with a chance to play in a flashy new arena and his best chance to win a ring (or maybe go back to back). But with Paul, Jordan, and a coach like Doc Rivers, crazier things have happened. With that additional 21 million to spend plus another projected increase in the salary cap, the Clippers would have plenty of options. Free agents-to-be like Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, or Gordon Hayward could be considered. Maybe even more than one of them. I’m not implying by any stretch those players are better than Griffin, but they are the best on the market and most importantly, they've proven for the most part they can stay healthy. The top-heavy Clippers could also allocate the money to multiple players to give themselves a deeper roster. Again, I’m not implying those players would produce more than Griffin, but you need guys who can stay on the court. I don’t know where Blake Griffin ends up. Maybe he goes to a contender like Houston or maybe he goes to a young team like the Lakers. It’s still not out of the question that he stays put. I do think it’s in the best interest for the Clippers to move on. If the decision is up to me, Blake Griffin has played his last game in a Clippers’ uniform.