It's that time of year where fans love to speculate about trades involving any player that might have even the slightest chance of being on the block. Following in the footsteps our own Jeff Clark, who earlier posed this question about Kevin Love, let's turn our attention to another star power forward - Blake Griffin.
Is he available?
While the Los Angeles Clippers have made no indication that they would consider shopping their All-Star forward, it's conceivable that the door may be creaking open a bit in the wake of his latest setback. Griffin has already missed the last 14 games while recovering from a quadriceps injury, but just as he was on the verge of returning to the team we find that he could miss an additional 4-6 weeks with a fractured hand. Making matters worse is that he reportedly injured his hand punching the team's assistant equipment manager. Star players have been sent packing for less severe altercations with team employees before (Hey Red Sox fans, remember Manny Ramirez?).
If Griffin's actions have him on thin ice with the front office, perhaps the Clippers would be at least willing to listen to offers.
Should the Clippers trade him?
The Clippers are desperate to capitalize while the 30-year old Chris Paul is still in his prime, so with their win-now mentality they may be questioning how much they can count on Griffin this season. The benefit of dealing him is twofold - they can bring in reinforcements to help keep the team in the top half of the Western Conference and also acquire draft picks that will give them young players to supplement their aging core.
Besides, it's not as if the Clippers have missed a beat without their star forward, compiling an 11-3 record in Griffin's absence. While they have capitalized on a cupcake schedule during that stretch, they have also been playing better this season without Griffin, according to a study by ESPN's Kevin Pelton.
"Using the Game Score competent from ESPN's Basketball Power Index, which accounts for outcome, opponent, location and rest, the Clippers' average performance rated a 53.3 with Griffin and has improved to 68.8 in his absence," writes Pelton.
Pelton admits that there are other variables that have also attributed to this improvement, such as coach Doc Rivers mixing up his bench rotation. However, his study finds that the Clippers are destroying opponents when Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the floor with a pair of reserves, outproducing what that trio accomplished when paired with Griffin and one bench player.
Keep in mind that we are dealing with a limited sample size here, but it at least suggests that the Clippers can still thrive without Griffin, which means trading him to bolster other weak spots in their rotation may be feasible.
What's the cost?
It's going to be steep. Bill Simmons suggested a scenario on Twitter where the Celtics could trade the combination of David Lee and Tyler Zeller in a package with multiple draft picks (including the highly coveted Brooklyn pick).
David Lee, Tyler Zeller, and 3 2016 first rounders (Nets, Boston, Dallas) for Blake! Needs a change of scenery! Call it in to the Commish!— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 26, 2016
If you are going to part with that pick from the Nets then it has to be for a legitimate superstar. Griffin certainly fits the bill, so this price would be well worth it considering there is no guarantee it will turn into the star Griffin already is.
Despite the appreciated enthusiasm from Simmons, I'm skeptical the Clippers will bite. They would require a deal that includes pieces that can help them win this year, but Lee and Zeller haven't performed well enough to entice them. They would be better off waiting for Griffin to return.
If the Celtics really want to get a deal done they have to be willing to offer Jae Crowder, which is far less appealing for Celtics fans. The Clippers need help at the small forward spot, with Paul Pierce unable to average 20 minutes per game at this point and the duo of Lance Stephenson and Wesley Johnson presenting terrible alternatives. Crowder can also help them as a small-ball four. He hustles, plays great defense and is emerging on the offensive end, all while playing on a bargain contract. Of course those are all reasons Celtics fans want to hang on to him, but he would be a perfect fit for the Clippers, making him an ideal bargaining chip.
Giving up both Crowder and the Nets pick (among other assets) seems like too much to give up, but Ainge has shown a willingness to overpay if he has to. Just look back at last year's draft when he tried to assemble an overwhelming package to move up in the draft. It didn't work, but it's noteworthy that he was willing to try. The Celtics need a superstar if they are going to contend for a title and the opportunity to acquire one doesn't come along every day. As much as it may hurt to surrender so much, it may be necessary in order for this team to take the next step.