Column: Blake Griffin was the face of the Clippers. Trading him was stunning — and smart

Did the Clippers really just do what I think they did?

Did they just trade the best home-grown player in franchise history, their one real connection with Hollywood, the most glittering mural in the rafters?

Did they do it barely six months after basically making him a Clipper for life by giving him a five-year, $171-million contract?

An about-face on the franchise’s face? Calling a car for the guy who once dunked over a car?


Works for me.

The Clippers’ trade of Blake Griffin on Monday was stunning but smart, a gutsy admission of a mistake and a calculated gamble on the future.

Some of their longtime fans will mourn it, and the city will miss him, but long-term hopes for anything beyond the second round of the playoffs demanded it.

Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons with Willie Reed and Brice Johnson for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first-round pick and second-round pick. Translated, that’s one five-time All-Star for two starters, a potentially starring kid, and cap space for potential free agents. As an equation, it tilts heavily in the Clippers’ favor.


The Clippers have never really had a trusted personnel guy running the show before now, so it’s understandable if this is all very hard to endorse, but with Jerry West pushing it and Lawrence Frank making it happen, their first bold move makes sense.

Remember when the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman made his first big splash as baseball boss three years ago by trading Matt Kemp in a controversial move that helped them build a pennant winner? This feels a lot like that.

As a star, Griffin was fun. But as a foundation, he was shaky.

You could cheer for him, but you couldn’t build on him. He was great in commercials, but struggled in fourth quarters. His dunks were breathtaking, but so were his debacles.


He never should have been made the cornerstone. He was always just a supporting player. During one of his hot streaks, I once wrote a column saying this was his team, and smart fans roasted me for it, and they were right.

Griffin could have been gone two winters ago when he broke his hand punching assistant equipment manager Matias Testi. Griffin should have been gone last summer the minute Chris Paul left town.

Once the Big Three became the Big Two, the Clippers’ chances of contending became a Big Fat Zero, and Griffin should have been allowed to walk.

The Clippers panicked. They worried about justifying those incredibly rising ticket prices. They were in negotiations for a new arena. They were going through a front-office transition.


They felt Griffin was their best chance at maintaining the perception of stability, so last summer they decorated Staples Center and hired a choir and threw him a party in which the announcer pretended it was 2029 and announced Griffin as a “lifelong Clipper.’’ And he bit. And they bit.

And they were together for life, at least until Griffin suffered a knee injury at the end of November and missed 14 games and Frank realized exactly what they had purchased. Griffin was flashy, but he will not play a full season for the fifth time in eight years. He was a force, but the team actually seem to play just as well without him, going 8-8 in games in which he didn’t appear, which almost mirrors its 25-24 record.

Frank, who was named basketball boss shortly after Griffin was signed by owner Steve Ballmer, knows that the worst thing one can be in the NBA is mediocre, and that’s where the Clippers were headed under Griffin. West, who was brought in last summer to bend Ballmer’s ear, was preaching that same gospel to the owner.

This is not the front office that presided over the six-year frustrations of the Big Three. This is a front office that, with several smart new hires surrounding Frank and West, have decided to build it differently.


They agreed that even though Griffin was their guy, he could never be The Guy, so kudos to them for swallowing their egos, shipping him off to Detroit for moves that could eventually land them that guy.

It won’t be Harris or Bradley, although both are good players, with Harris a particularly intriguing young scoring talent. It also won’t be Marjanovic, though he is a 7-foot-3 bundle of fun.

But The Guy could come in next year’s draft, considering the Clippers now have two picks that could be in the top 10, the first time they can make a real draft impact since Griffin was drafted first nine years ago. The Guy could also come in one of the next two free-agent classes, considering the Clippers have cap space that is only growing.

Growing because, yeah, you know this was coming, this move means DeAndre Jordan is also in play for next week’s trade deadline. This could set them up not only to make some noise this summer in the Paul George sweepstakes, but also next summer when players such as Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson could be available. The remodeling also could affect the coaching staff, depending on Doc Rivers’ patience with all the dust.


Clippers fans are being asked to swallow hard for the next couple of months, but once Paul left, they had to know this was coming. The last six years were a blast, but now, as with most NBA teams coming off a stretch of relative success, the Clippers can’t move forward without blowing some stuff up.

They no longer need someone who can jump over cars. They need somebody to drive one.

Lawrence Frank had to begin his search for that guy, because it was never going to be Blake Griffin.


Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke