The Whiteboard: 3 potential Blake Griffin trades (and why they won’t happen)

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With NBA trade season rapidly approaching, here’s a word to the wise: Don’t expect a Blake Griffin trade anytime soon. Barring something completely insane going down, it’s highly unlikely the Detroit Pistons star will be dealt anywhere by the March 25 deadline.

As fun as Blake Griffin trades are to brainstorm, even with the former high-flier looking more and more ground-bound these days, his $36.5 million salary for this season — mixed with his underwhelming production and $39 million player option for next year — make him nearly impossible to move. Contenders and playoff teams will flock to him if the Pistons buy him out, but until then, very few teams would have reason to give up legitimate assets for a 31-year-old with a lengthy injury history and diminishing athleticism.

In 20 games with Detroit this season, Griffin has averaged a career-low 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game on dismal .365/.315/.710 shooting splits. Some of that may stem from growing tired of playing for one of the NBA’s worst teams, but it doesn’t help his trade value — even as the Pistons sit him out to mull their trade options and buyout possibilities.

Attaching an asset like draft compensation would help get a deal done, but depending on the offer, general manager Troy Weaver might prefer to just keep that first-round selection and either buy Griffin out or wait out the remainder of his contract. That makes concocting a sensible trade here incredibly difficult, but in the spirit of trade season, here are three potential deals that might work … and why they ultimately won’t happen.

Chicago Bulls

The deal: Otto Porter Jr. and Cristiano Felicio for Blake Griffin

Why it makes sense: The Chicago Bulls are right on the cusp of entering the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, and given the way Thaddeus Young has performed in more central role within the second unit’s offense, a playmaker of Griffin’s caliber might wind up being a terrific addition. Otto Porter Jr. and his 11.6 points per game are hardly essential to what Chicago is trying to build, especially as he approaches unrestricted free agency this offseason.

Adding a veteran with plenty left to give in a new environment could help push Chicago into the playoff field, and if all it costs them is two expiring contracts of players that aren’t intrinsic to their success, why not bolster that bench a bit more?

Why it won’t happen: Taking away minutes from Patrick Williams and Lauri Markkanen shouldn’t be the goal, and between those two youngsters, Wendell Carter Jr. and Thad Young, the frontcourt would be mighty crowded — even with Porter and Cristiano Felicio on the way out. Detroit might like getting two expiring contracts in exchange for Griffin, but the Bulls may not want his $39 million salary on the books for next year as they continue to rebuild through youth.

Miami Heat

The deal: Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard for Blake Griffin

Why it makes sense: At 11-17, the Miami Heat could use a jumpstart just to scratch and claw their way back to relevance. Injuries and COVID-19 protocols are the main culprits behind their rocky start, but it’s becoming clear this group isn’t heading for a repeat NBA Finals appearance unless something drastic changes. A Griffin trade and subsequent resurgence in South Beach may be just what the doctor ordered.

For the Heat, they’d be sacrificing some depth in the hopes of Griffin revitalizing his career with a change of scenery. Miami’s player development and conditioning programs, as well as “Heat Culture” in general, have helped plenty of guys’ careers ignite. Even this late in his career timeline, Griffin could be due for a renaissance. Add him to a core including Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, and suddenly the Heat have a ton of talent and basketball I.Q. to contend with.

Why it won’t happen: Again, even with Meyers Leonard done for the season, that’s a lot of depth to sacrifice for a guy who may very well be washed up. Griffin’s 3-point shot and passing would fit in perfectly in Miami, but that $39 million player option is a huge deterrent to a franchise that always fancies itself as a major player in free agency. If the Heat want Griffin, their best avenue is still hoping Detroit buys him out and then swooping in with an offer.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The deal: Trevor Ariza, George Hill and Darius Miller for Blake Griffin and a future first-round pick

Why it makes sense: The Oklahoma City Thunder are a prime destination for wheeling and dealing … so long as anyone trying to cross that bridge is also willing to pay GM Sam Presti’s toll of future draft picks. A quick scan of OKC’s roster shows Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza — veterans that contenders will covet as the deadline approaches. Adding Griffin to that group does little for the Thunder’s prospects this season, but it does open up more trade avenues for Presti while also satisfying his unending craving for extra draft selections.

The Pistons have no use for guys like Ariza, Hill or Darius Miller themselves, but swinging this kind of Blake Griffin trade would put Weaver in position for a little wheeling and dealing himself; At best, Detroit could land separate deals for Ariza and/or Hill to stockpile assets for its own rebuild. At worst, they’re all useful veterans on cheaper, short-term contracts: Ariza and Miller have expiring deals, while Hill’s $10 million salary for next season is non-guaranteed. If the Pistons are willing to part with a future protected draft pick, they could get some decent cap relief and open doors to additional assets by then moving Hill and/or Ariza.

Why it won’t happen: The Pistons already owe the Houston Rockets a protected first-rounder that’s unlikely to convey this season, next season or even in 2023. That won’t stop Presti from asking for a distant first-rounder if he can squeeze one out of this situation, but again, we need to point out that Detroit might prefer to just buy Griffin out rather than surrender a future first-round pick to move him — even if that pick is heavily protected and way down the road.

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