Fans wore Blake Griffin’s old Clippers jersey and cheered him as he ran on and off the court this week at Staples Center, a reminder of how big of a star he was for the franchise that ultimately traded him.
It was a week for reunions at Staples Center — first with Griffin on Thursday and then with the New Orleans Pelicans’ trio of former Lakers one night later.
The future for the Pelicans is still relatively clear — Brandon Ingram has cemented himself as an All-Star candidate and a player headed for max money this offseason. Josh Hart is the kind of winning player that coaches love. And Lonzo Ball, finally healthy, is coming off his first back-to-back 20-point games.
Zion Williamson is back practicing, and despite being near the bottom of the West, New Orleans still has a five-year outlook that’s plenty favorable (even despite the injury concerns surrounding Williamson as he readies to make his NBA debut).
But if New Orleans can still see its path, the Detroit Pistons are barreling down a foggy road with their brake lines cut.
It begins with Griffin, who hasn’t been right all season after having a career season in his first full one with the Pistons. He’s missed all but 18 games because of knee-related issues, an injury that’s plagued him during his career.
While he’s always been adept at recovering, things haven’t gone nearly as smoothly this time, with signs of decline impossible to ignore as he tries to work back into form.
Take this one, for instance — in Griffin’s 504 games with the Clippers, he shot 30% or worse (minimum seven attempts) just 23 times. In 18 games this season, as load management and knee pain have kept him out of rhythm, he’s been below 30% seven times.
Griffin’s health is just part of the Pistons’ issues. Center Andre Drummond is expected to decline a player option this summer to become an unrestricted free agent and he is viewed as an available player as teams move into trade season.
Atlanta, according to ESPN, is a suitor. Other teams with needs in the frontcourt would likely consider Drummond, the NBA’s top rebounder, though there are questions about how his numbers translate to winning.
Whatever Detroit thought its future was going to be has certainly been altered — so much, in fact, that long-term project, rookie Sekou Doumbouya, had to be pressed into the starting lineup Thursday night because someone had to try to guard Kawhi Leonard.
But the key to everything is Griffin, a player who proved last year that he can still dominate if he’s physically right. But if he’s not, and right now it doesn’t seem like he is, he’s the team’s most expensive player and a massive question mark for the organization moving forward.
Stern’s L.A. legacy
We asked members of the L.A. Times’ Full-Court Text chain about former NBA commissioner David Stern this week, and unsurprisingly, his legacy in this city is a little bit complicated.
Readers pointed out Stern’s response to Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement as a major accomplishment for the man who also did things such as expanding the NBA globally while giving professional basketball a viable women’s league in the WNBA.
But Stern, as acting owner of the New Orleans Hornets, overruled general manager Dell Demps’ desire to deal Chris Paul to the Lakers. That opened the door for the Clippers, who acquired Paul for what Stern thought was a better trade package. It’s a decision that helped shape basketball in L.A. for the last decade.
And then there’s the Donald Sterling problem. The V. Stiviano tapes were hardly the first Sterling scandal. His housing discrimination issues, embarrassing depositions and public berating of players all existed under Stern’s watch.
The positives undeniably out-weighed the negatives, but as The Times’ readers made clear, those negatives haven’t been forgotten.
Brandon Ingram said making an All-Star team is definitely a goal of his, and while he has the numbers to be in the conversation (about 25 points and seven rebounds per game), he said winning would make his season even sweeter. … Dallas and Boston are two teams to keep a close eye on in trade discussions, with both possibly being players in any Drummond talks. … The Clippers’ recent injury problems — Patrick Beverley’s wrist, Paul George’s hamstring — have highlighted the team’s need for another ball handler according to rival scouts. The sense is, though, if Darren Collison were to be an option, it wouldn’t be imminent.