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First Chip To Fall: The Clippers and Pistons Trade

David Yapkowitz takes a first look at the on-court fallout from the Blake Griffin blockbuster.

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The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching on Feb. 8. The first major domino fell yesterday when the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers completed a deal which sent Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, and Willie Reed to the Pistons, with Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and a first and second-round pick to the Clippers.

Prior to the trade, it appeared as if the Clippers had been trying to turn things around. After a good start to the season, they were hit with a rash of injuries to key players, including Griffin, and they stumbled hard in the standings. When Griffin came back, as well as Milos Teodosic, the team was seemingly beginning to return to their early season play. Despite Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari still on the sidelines, they were gaining ground in the Western Conference.

For the Pistons, they also had a great start to the season. At one point, they were in the top-three record-wise in the Eastern Conference. Like the Clippers, they too suffered from key injuries, most notably to starting point guard Reggie Jackson, who is still out. They have also plummeted in the standings. They currently reside in ninth place, and three games back of the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth spot. They’re on an eight-game losing streak and have lost nine of their last ten.

From the Pistons perspective, it was clear they needed to do something if they wanted to remain competitive in the East. Griffin gives them a bonafide franchise-caliber player, something they’ve lacked in quite some time. He brings with him 22.6 points per game (the second highest mark of his career), 7.1 rebounds, and a career-high 5.4 assists.

Griffin is not enough to vault them into the upper echelon of the East, but it’s a start. Jackson might return closer to the All-Star break, and it’s conceivable to think that the Pistons might start an upward climb in the playoff picture. Griffin is in the prime of his career, and the contract he signed with the Clippers this past summer will ensure that, barring any other surprising developments, he’ll be in a Pistons uniform at least through the 2020-21 season. They have some time to build around him.

Andre Drummond is one player who should benefit from playing alongside Griffin. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had a nice two-man game going in Los Angeles. Griffin is one of the best passing big men in the league and Jordan was often the recipient of his passes around the rim. Drummond should benefit in a similar fashion.

Drummond and Jordan are similar players, borderline All-Star caliber with a little bit more to be desired offensively. Drummond’s been having a solid year, 14.7 points per game and a career-high 15.1 rebounds. His rebounding numbers might drop a bit now that Griffin is there to ease the burden on the glass, but look for his scoring to go up with Griffin looking for him around the basket.

On the outside, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed may look like throw-ins to help complete the deal, but both, especially Reed, should get a shot in Detroit. Marjanovic was the backup center to Drummond, and now Reed should fill that spot. The Pistons still have Eric Moreland on the roster, but Reed should be able to replicate a little more of the defensive toughness they lost with Marjanovic. In Johnson’s case, he’s a young prospect that never got an opportunity in Los Angeles. He’s worth a look for the Pistons, and if he doesn’t work out, his contract is up in the summer and they can cut their losses.

This trade for the Clippers signals a change in direction. It was unknown whether they would try and make a final playoff push once some of their guys got healthy, or if they would look to move their veterans and head into a rebuild. With this trade, they’ve clearly chosen the latter. Don’t be surprised if both Jordan and Lou Williams are next.

Harris is a nice acquisition for the Clippers. Sure he isn’t Griffin, but he’s a talented forward in his own right. To this point, he’d been enjoying a career year scoring wise. He was averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 40.9 percent from three-point range, both career-highs. He’s a versatile player who can alternate between both forward positions. And he’s still relatively young at age 25. He’s going to be entering his prime years. Harris should be a part of any rebuild.

Bradley, on the other hand, is more of a question mark going forward. Regarded by many as one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league, he’s been struggling a bit since Jackson’s injury. He’s also dealt with injuries of his own, which caused him to miss several games earlier in the season. His scoring is slightly down from last season (15.0 from 16.3) and his three-point shooting as well (38.1 percent from 39 percent), but he’s seen a big drop in efficiency. He’s shooting 40.9 percent, down from 46.3 percent.

He should be able to slide right into the Clippers’ starting lineup alongside Teodosic, especially with Rivers still out. He was doing well playing with Jackson, and maybe a pass-first guy like Teodosic will help him regain some of his Boston level production. In all likelihood, however, he’s going to be a half season rental. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and will probably command a decent sized pay increase. For a team like the Clippers transitioning into a rebuild, tying up a large amount of long-term money to Bradley probably isn’t the wisest idea at this point.

Marjanovic is a decent backup center, but the Clippers have been going with Montrezl Harrell at the five. Harrell is giving them solid production this season and it might be a bit too late for Marjanovic to supplant him in the rotation.

The Clippers are also getting back a pair of draft picks: a first rounder that will assuredly be conveyed this summer, and a second rounder in 2019. When going down the rebuilding path, extra draft picks are always welcome no matter what range they fall in.

The Pistons are probably going to be the team that sees an immediate impact from their return. While not quite good enough to regain their standing near the top of the East, they should be good enough to climb back into the postseason picture and then they can go from there. The Clippers likely placed themselves out of any playoff push and are instead looking toward the future. In terms of shedding salary, they’ve done a good job. They’re no longer locked into Griffin’s max deal, and both Bradley and Harris may be gone by 2019. Harris is probably a guy worth keeping around for a rebuild, but the Clippers have a whole other year to make that decision. For what both teams appear to be trying to accomplish, they both did well with this deal.

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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