Van Gundy gambles on Griffin
With his team in a slump that threatened to derail a once-promising season, Stan Van Gundy boldly put the Detroit Pistons on a new path. Where it will lead is anyone's guess.
The trade that brought Blake Griffin to the Pistons includes plenty of risk. The 6-foot-10 forward with an All-Star pedigree has a lengthy highlight reel and an injury history to match. But in his fourth season as Detroit's coach and team president, Van Gundy wasn't going to let this opportunity pass. If healthy, Griffin is the type of player who could lift this franchise significantly - and not just this season.
"The hardest thing to do in this league is to get a proven star," Van Gundy said on Tuesday. "You get very few opportunities to do it."
Detroit has made the play-offs once under Van Gundy, but when the Pistons lost their eighth straight game on Sunday, this season seemed to be slipping away. Detroit has looked lost without injured point guard Reggie Jackson, and although centre Andre Drummond is signed long term, the future appeared murky at best.
Guard Avery Bradley was on an expiring contract, and recent draft picks Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson look more like role players than stars. The Pistons weren't in a clear rebuilding mode, but improving the roster wasn't going to be easy.
So Detroit took a gamble, sending Bradley and leading scorer Tobias Harris to Los Angeles for Griffin in a six-player trade announced yesterday morning. The deal also cost the Pistons a first-round draft pick.
"It's a great addition," said Detroit forward Reggie Bullock, who once played with Griffin on the Clippers. "We're getting an All-Star-calibre player coming to a team to add on to the one that we already have."
The upside is obvious. The Pistons have been mediocre for most of the past decade, but they've never picked higher than seventh in the draft during that period. Detroit isn't considered a major free agent destination, so if the Pistons were going to acquire a player like Griffin, this was one way to do it.
Griffin agreed to a US$171 million, five-year deal with the Clippers in July, so Detroit can keep him for a while, albeit at a prohibitive cost.
"Everybody can view that differently. 'Oh wow, you're locked into US$140 million-plus.' Yeah, but he's locked into us too, as one of the best players in the league," Van Gundy said.
The 28-year-old Griffin has averaged 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists in his career, and he and the 24-year-old Drummond could be a formidable frontcourt tandem. Van Gundy acknowledged that the NBA has become more perimeter oriented, but he says there is value in trying to build a different type of team.