By NOAH TRISTER
The Detroit Pistons dramatically shook their struggling roster by acquiring one of the NBA’s top players in Blake Griffin in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. The deal for the five-time All-Star forward was announced early Tuesday, giving Detroit a player who has been the face of the Clippers but whose career has been undercut by injuries.
Detroit sent forward Tobias Harris, guard Avery Bradley and center Boban Marjanovic to Los Angeles, with the Clippers also receiving draft picks. Detroit also acquired forward Brice Johnson and center Willie Reed.
“We are serious about winning, and this is a major move to improve our team,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement. “Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s elite players, and when you get an opportunity to add that kind of talent, you take it.”
The Pistons did not yet say if Griffin would be available for Tuesday night’s home game against Cleveland.
The 28-year-old Griffin is averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 33 games this season, but the Clippers have been plagued by injuries and are ninth in the Western Conference standings.
Detroit is scuffling as well. The Pistons have lost eight straight heading into Tuesday night’s game against Cleveland.
“Needed a night to digest and reflect on what happened….” Griffin tweeted. “From being a (hashtag)1 pick, to Lob City, to six straight Playoff appearances, I am so proud to have been part of the success of the Clippers organization. LA has been my home since I started in the league and I will be forever grateful to the city for embracing me and supporting me. To the fans, you have been awesome every step of the way. Thank you for years of support.
“Now I’m ready for the next chapter, getting to work and helping the Detroit Pistons make a run in the Eastern Conference.”
Last July, Griffin agreed to a $171 million, five-year deal, ending a brief flirtation with free agency. He told his teammates, coach Doc Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer, “I want my legacy to be a Clipper.”
The deal didn’t include a no-trade clause for the second-leading scorer in franchise history with 10,863 points.
Griffin gives Detroit’s frontcourt another standout alongside Andre Drummond, but it also represents a clear change in course from the roster the Pistons had assembled. Detroit acquired Bradley in a trade with Boston last offseason, but he’s in the final season of his contract. Harris has been impressive for the Pistons this season, shooting a career-best 41 percent from 3-point range.
“The move is not without risk. We gave up a lot to get him, including Tobias Harris — one of the hardest-working, highest-character players I know — and two high-quality young men in Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic,” Gores said. “But we are very excited to bring Blake Griffin to Detroit. He is a great fit for our team and will bring a combination of toughness and athleticism that will elevate our team and excite our fans.”
Detroit’s season was looking promising until a late-December injury to point guard Reggie Jackson. The Pistons have stumbled while he’s been out with a sprained right ankle, and the team is facing the prospect of missing the playoffs in its first season at its new downtown arena.
Detroit’s next six games are at home, so the Pistons will have a chance to turn this season around — and an opportunity to build for a future with both Griffin and Drummond.
“His presence will help us offensively and his size gives us another rebounder and weapon in the paint,” said Stan Van Gundy, Detroit’s coach and team president. “Willie Reed and Brice Johnson are two young players that give us size and depth.”
For the Clippers, moving Griffin continues a makeover of a franchise that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
The Clippers traded All-Star point guard Chris Paul to Houston last summer. He had been credited with bringing respectability to the team that was once the laughingstock of the league. Without Paul, Los Angeles won its first four games to open the season, and then lost nine of its next 11. The team is one game above .500 going into Tuesday night’s game against Portland.
“Blake is one of the best players ever to wear a Clippers jersey. We want to express our gratitude and respect for everything he has done for this team and the city of Los Angeles,” said Lawrence Frank, Clippers president of basketball operations. “This was a very difficult decision, but we ultimately felt it was appropriate for the franchise.”
Paul’s replacement, Patrick Beverley, has missed the entire season after right knee surgery. Also missing time have been DeAndre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari, Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic.
Yet owner Steve Ballmer remains optimistic.
“While change is hard, my confidence in our front office, led by Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger, along with the sage counsel of Jerry West, has never been higher,” he said in a statement. “I believe today, more than ever, in our ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship.”
Los Angeles receives a protected first-round draft choice and a second-round pick from the Pistons.
The Clippers drafted Griffin first overall out of Oklahoma in 2009. However, he missed the 2009-10 season after surgery on his broken left kneecap. Griffin missed 21 games last season and 47 in 2015-16 because of injuries.
As a rookie, he was an All-Star, won the slam dunk contest and was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
He has averaged 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists in his career.
“Blake Griffin had a tremendous impact on this organization and his legacy within the community of Los Angeles will be permanent,” Balmer said. “It was a pleasure getting to know and cheer for Blake. I wish him, as well as Brice and Willie, the best of luck.”
Even before the Pistons announced the deal, there was plenty of reaction on social media Monday night. Harris had a message on his accounts thanking Detroit for its support. Griffin’s Twitter account had its own message with no words — just an image of actor Will Smith with a surprised expression on his face.