Stop me if you’ve heard this before - there’s a rumor floating around that involves the Boston Celtics. With a hoard of assets and enviable cap flexibility, essentially any top free agent or trade target will inevitably be linked to the Celtics at some point.
"Boston is really the danger for Blake Griffin," said Wojnarowski. "I think Boston's two primary free agent targets, right now, are Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. Now they're not going to get both of them, but they're both players that would potentially have interest there. I think Boston looks at in different ways with their future."
As a teammate of Paul Pierce last season, Griffin witnessed how Boston fans embraced the former Celtic in his final visit to the TD Garden last spring. The reaction that the crowd showered upon one of the all-time greats in franchise history did not go unnoticed by Griffin.
If the respect of a passionate fan base wasn’t enough to convince Griffin that Boston is a viable landing spot, perhaps the 17 banners hanging overhead was. In seven seasons in Los Angeles, Griffin has yet to make it past the second round of the playoffs. If he feels that this Clippers team has reached its ceiling then perhaps he’ll look to jump ship to a Celtics team coming off an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
Could Griffin be the missing piece that brings Boston to the next level?
The 28-year old is still in the prime of his career, coming off a season in which he averaged 21.6 points - a tick above his career average. He would provide the Celtics with another scoring option to pair with Isaiah Thomas and give them an option to run their offense through when their superstar point guard is getting a breather. Boston’s offense became stagnant when Thomas wasn’t on the floor this season. That would be less of a concern if his minutes were staggered appropriately with a star like Griffin.
The 8.1 rebounds that Griffin averaged this season would have easily led the Celtics. Imagine how many more boards he could collect without DeAndre Jordan beside him gobbling up everything in sight. Adding Griffin would go a long way toward patching one of Boston’s biggest holes.
An overlooked aspect of Griffin’s game is his play-making ability. He averaged 4.9 assists in each of the last two seasons. Al Horford was one of only two big men to average more this year. Imagine a front court featuring the passing skills of both of these star players. Coach Brad Stevens often likes to throw the ball into Horford in the post to allow him to initiate the offense. Griffin can be trusted in a similar role, making this offense that much more difficult to defend.
Griffin is the star caliber player that Boston seeks, yet interest in the free agent forward must be pursued with caution. The glaring red flag on Griffin’s resume is his extensive injury history.
A toe injury knocked Griffin out of the postseason in the midst of a first-round battle with the Utah Jazz. Last year his season ended in the middle of a series against the Portland Trailblazers. Both injuries contributed to an early postseason exit for the Clippers.
Griffin has only played in 80+ games three times over the last seven seasons. That’s not even taking into account that he missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. He’s managed to suit up for 67, 35 and 61 games over the last three seasons. They say the best ability is availability. For all his strengths, Griffin’s biggest weakness is being able to stay on the floor.
Whether it be age or the cumulative effect of all his injuries, Griffin is no longer the high-flyer he was before. This isn’t the same guy that leaped over a KIA and became the poster child for Lob City. He may show it in flashes, barreling through the lane to throw down a thunderous dunk in traffic. Those moments aren’t as common as they once were and will only continue to dwindle.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Griffin has been forced to evolve, extending his shooting range to adapt to the direction the league is trending in. He shot nearly two three-pointers per game this year, more than tripling his previous career high. He only drained 33.6 percent - not great even for a big man by today’s standards - but he’s making progress. Expanding his game to incorporate more perimeter shots may also help keep him healthier in the long run.
Griffin is an appealing free agent target capable of making a significant improvement to this Celtics roster, yet his injury history makes me hesitant to concede that he’s worth the max deal he’s presumably seeking.
Assuming a salary cap of $101 million, Griffin is eligible for a starting salary of up to $30.3 million next season. Boston can offer up to four years with five percent raises for a max value of $130,290,000 million. The Clippers can offer him eight percent raises, which would max out at $135,744,000 million over four years. The kicker is that LA can also offer a fifth year, boosting the total value to $175,740,00 (tip of the cap to CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith for crunching the numbers).
From a financial standpoint, Griffin would actually be better off signing a shorter deal. A three-year deal would allow him to hit free agency again at age 31, still young enough for one last payday that would presumably come under a higher salary cap. By that point he’ll also have ten years of experience, putting him in a higher salary bracket.
It’s unclear if Griffin is willing to settle for less than the max in order to prioritize winning. If he’s willing to bend a bit on those demands, a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $90 million would work for both parties. Griffin still gets paid close to the max on an annual basis and can hit free agency again at an ideal point in his career, while the Celtics are locked into a shorter deal that protects against his long-term health concerns and keeps future cap flexibility.
Griffin may insist on a fourth year player option, which would allow him to opt for free agency if he’s healthy and performing well but gives him the added protection of an extra year in case his career takes a turn for the worse. It’s not ideal for Boston, although it’s probably not a deal-breaker either.
The top free agent target for the Celtics should be Gordon Hayward, both for his connection to Brad Stevens and his cleaner injury history. If they strikeout with the star Jazz forward then Griffin immediately becomes an enticing Plan B.
It’s a signing that isn’t without risk, yet if he can be convinced to come to Boston on a shorter deal at less than max money than signing Griffin would be a risk worth taking.