The Los Angeles Clippers are at a crossroads. Fortunately for them, they have an owner in Steve Ballmer that is not satisfied with simply beating the Lakers. Ballmer has stated that he is willing to pay the necessary costs to support a winning team. However, three of the Clippers’ four best players are capable of leaving the team via free agency this upcoming offseason.
Recent talks have centered around a push from the San Antonio Spurs (who are hamstrung by serious cap issues) to sign Chris Paul away from the Clippers. However, the Clippers have a big advantage in terms of the amount of money they can offer Paul. Specifically, Paul would have to re-sign with the Clippers to capture the benefit of the type of contract he helped to carve out for players like himself during the last edition of CBA negotiations with the NBA. J.J. Redick, who is an unrestricted free agent, may ultimately leave after expressing frustration with the team at various points this past season. Redick is likely to have a number of suitors that can offer a handsome pay raise for the sharpshooter, who has earned well under $10 million each season during his time in Los Angeles.
Blake Griffin also has the ability to sign with any team this upcoming offseason and his decision may be the most interesting and impactful of the summer for Los Angeles. Like with Paul, the Clippers can offer more money than any other team. That, combined with continuity (this is the only team Griffin has played for and he has always been close friends with DeAndre Jordan) and a developed presence in Los Angeles is an advantage for the Clippers. Notably, there has not been a steady leak of stories hinting at what Griffin might be thinking or what other destinations he might be looking at. However, two teams have compelling pitches to make to Griffin to persuade him to take his talents somwhere other than Los Angeles: the Boston Celtics and the Miami HEAT.
There is no doubt about the interest the Celtics have in Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who is an unrestricted free agent. Jazz fans have good reason to have some level of dread regarding Hayward due to the strong position the Celtics have in terms of talent and being an Eastern Conference team. In addition, Hayward’s connection to Celtics Coach Brad Stevens could help to lure in Hayward. However, should the Celtics fail to land Hayward, Griffin would be an excellent alternative.
Griffin is a player that has faced criticism — fair and unfair — regarding his play, behavior and his team’s success. However, he continues to display unquestionable talent and, at times, the prodigious athleticism that marked his earlier years in the league. He has often looked less athletic overall (at the age of 28) than earlier in his career and has a well-documented history of injuries that have certainly contributed to that decline. Additionally, his reputation suffered a hit when he missed games in the 2015-16 season after breaking his hand in a fight with the team’s former equipment manager.
The Celtics are in an interesting position. They have a superstar in Isaiah Thomas, good supporting players and presumably Markelle Fultz lined up as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Part of the reason that they have so much cap room to sign Hayward or Griffin is that Thomas remains on an unbelievably team-friendly $6.26 million contract for next season. Before having to re-sign him, the Celtics have the cap room to add a premiere talent.
For Griffin, this move offers the opportunity to get out of the Western Conference and away from the Golden State Warriors, who are poised to dominate the West for years to come. Stevens has earned a reputation as an excellent coach who maximizes his team’s potential. What the Celtics have arguably failed to acquire so far is a player of Griffin’s talents to complement Thomas. Alongside Thomas, Griffin wouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of unquestioned team leader and best player. Thomas would retain that role while giving Griffin the opportunity to adapt and become comfortable.
For years, there has been talk that Griffin has at times pushed back under the alleged overbearing leadership and direction of Paul. So would Griffin really leave Los Angeles only to end up playing alongside another ball-dominant point guard who has seized the mantle of team leader and best player? That question may be one of the biggest factors for Griffin to cnsidering this offseason. Ultimately, tthe opportunity to join a team that just made the Eastern Conference Finals, plays in the weaker conference, is adding the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft and features a deep roster of young talent may be appealing enough for Griffin to make the move out East this summer.
The HEAT offer a different opportunity. Once again, General Manager Andy Elisburg and President Pat Riley are in position to create something big. Riley’s previous acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh instantly turned the HEAT into a super team. With Bosh’s salary coming off the books due to the NBA health panel’s declaration that Bosh has a career ending injury, the HEAT have ample cap room for Riley to usher in the frachise’s next era. Griffin could be the centerpiece of that.
The difference with Miami is that the franchise doesn’t feature the depth of young talent and future assets that Boston does. While the team played extraordinarily well this past season, it failed to qualify for the postseason and could lose a few players that were key contributors. Griffin would have to trust that Riley and his staff can bolster the roster and that Erik Spoelstra can continue maximizing his team’s talent. However, if Griffin is hesitant to play second fiddle to Thomas, or Paul, then the HEAT can pitch him on being the team’s new centerpiece and star player. Miami has notable talent in players like Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, but Griffin would have a reasonable shot at establishing himself as the team’s new leader and most important player.
Griffin very well may dismiss his options in free agency and opt to re-sign with the Clippers this offseason. However, if Griffin is ready to move on from the only NBA franchise he has ever played for, he will have at least two very interesting teams to consider joining.
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