Centuries from now scholars will still debate the merits of The Boban Marjanovic Trade, as theologians still endlessly debate sola scriptura and sola fide. Future basketball historians will hold annual Boban Disputandiae of NBA monks and ordained Analytic Hierophants at the Holy Conventical of the Warriors Nuns in Oakland. They’ll give themselves funny names on their holographic name cards, and make obscure Bobby Sura jokes that make all the elder historians chuckle and say “triple double!” to each other and then high-five using their virtual reality antennae. Robot college students and the reanimated dead will attend lectures on the differences between ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and a freshly dug hole (“There is none.”), and the merits of the merciful Orlando Ban of 2035, forever ending pro sports teams in Florida (“Dan Marino died leading a forlorn hope of ex-Panhandlers and Tampa Nay-ers against the Anti-Fla forces holed up in Epcot Center; however he was actually killed by friendly fire, as a stray raygun blast from Jameis Winston disintegrated Marino’s entire body. Witnesses are reported to have said, I’m not surprised.”).
The Boban Marjanovic Trade consisted of The Boban Himself (“Considered, at that time, to be the most beautiful man in the world.”), draft picks, and other players of little or no consequence. Once in Los Angeles, The Boban’s run of 37 straight NBA Finals Appearances began. (“Tragically, he won none of them.”)
Rather than discuss The Boban again, I’d like to focus on the garbage, sorry, “the filler” that accompanied The Boban on this Genesis-Level trade. Let’s look at all the insignificant stuff, like Blake Griffin.
Blake Griffin sucks.
No, wait, I’m sorry, I said that wrong. Blake Griffin is spectacular. He’s one of the 25 best players in the NBA. He’s the best non-The Boban player included in this transaction.
Due to the doublethink and the Newspeak of Oceania, sorry, I mean the media, Blake Griffin’s good salary is considered bad. The culture at large, our very own American Ingsoc, is convinced that thrift is also efficiency, and that misers are wiser than we. It is SMART to slash payroll. It is SMART to dump “big” contracts. It is SMART to lose. It is SMART to rid yourself of expensive excellence, though you pocket proceeds regardless. It’s SMART to get rid of Blake Griffin. He’s too expensive. He’s not yet 30, but he’s too old. He’s had injuries, though several have been freak accidents or the result of poor decisions, and thus aren’t actually predictive, BUT STILL! INJURY HISTORY!
Like I said, Blake Griffin sucks. According to a lot of folks, this trade is a disaster for Detroit. The Pistons received the best player in the trade, but they still lost. Detroit got the star, but their future has dimmed. This is the New NBA, Room 101: What’s good is bad, and what’s bad is good. Lose to win. Win, and lose. The only sane response in this polarized world is to become bipolar: Either fail as hard as you can, or be the best in the whole world, but never, NEVER, find yourself between the two.
There is no middle ground, not anymore. The center doesn’t hold because there are no Centers left. They’ve all been deemed “poor allocations of resources.” Bigs don’t matter, anymore. So, why go get yourself a good one? The good ones are bad, don’t you understand that? Especially if they cost almost as much as Paul Millsap! Or, Gordon Hayward! Or, Kyle Lowry! Y’know, those contracts that everyone’s always referring to as lodestones for their teams, and the reason for why they (Denver, Boston, and Toronto) can’t succeed?
Allow me to play Devil’s Advocate, por favor. I know I’ll sound foolish, but I’m going to try and make a case that Blake Griffin, an exceptionally good basketball player, will make the Detroit Pistons a better team.
Blake Griffin is top 20 in scoring this season. He has NEVER finished a season outside of the top 30, and most seasons he’s top 15.
Blake Griffin is a 6’10” wing who can shoot (he has a better 3PT% than Eric Gordon, and he attempts more 3s than Kevin Love). Tobias Harris, one of the players sent to the Clippers in this trade, is considered to take more outside shots than Blake. Tobias takes 5.8 threes a game. Blake takes 5.7.
Blake Griffin is a big who can pass. In fact, he’s a good passer no matter what. He’s top 25 in assists per game. He averages more dimes than Boogie Cousins and Nikola Jokic, and they’re both held up as prime examples of bigs who can distribute the ball. Blake averages more assists than KYRIE IRVING.
Blake Griffin averages the same amount of rebounds (while playing with DeAndre Jordan, by the way) as LeBron James, Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, Al! Horford!, and Ancient Taj.
Blake Griffin was top 10 in Net Rating last year, a measure of the difference between his offense and his defense. He had the SIXTH BEST offensive rating last year.
Out of all players who play at least 20 minutes per game, and average at least 16 shot attempts per game, Blake is top 25 in field goal percentage (right ahead of Damian Lillard, Kristaps Porzingis, and Paul George).
So, Blake can score, Blake can shoot, Blake can pass, Blake can rebound, and Blake gets to the foul line (he’s top 10 in the league this year, tied with Steph Curry at 6.6 free throw attempts per game). He’s AT LEAST a top 25 player in the NBA, and he’s not yet 30.
But, that’s only if you disregard his “bad” good salary. And, his maybe-maybe not predictive injury history.
The Pistons sent picks and players, including The Boban, to LA for Blake. The other, non-The Boban players, will never be as good at basketball as Blake Griffin. The picks are unlikely to become players that exceed his career, because players like Blake, elite NBA talent, are rare. That’s why he’s worth a lot of money, because he’s one of the best players in the NBA. His salary is a result of his talent, but also of timing: Someone will sign an even bigger contract this offseason, and someone will sign an even BIGGER bigger one the season after that, and on and on. Odds are that Blake’s contract won’t even be top 10 expensive in two years.
The cost control aspect of the picks is nice, but the Pistons are getting back two young players that are still cost controlled and cheap. Since Detroit’s draft pick likely won’t be top 5 in the draft, the trade is probably a wash (and, the first round pick is 1-4 protected, so if it should somehow become a top pick, the Pistons keep it). Plus, those two players, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed, have some upside! Don’t discount Stan Van Gundy’s ability to improve tall wings. Meanwhile, Detroit still has Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson (both of whom are playing better), along with some other cheap, young players. Next year five of their players will make less than $4 million each; that’s not terrible! (Having Josh Smith’s $5 million stretched-out cap hit for two more years after this one is what’s terrible.)
Plus, Detroit now has a $7 million trade exception. Y’know, which is nice.
Speaking of costs, Avery Bradley wasn’t coming back to the Pistons next year, so trading him for a controllable asset makes all the sense in the world. Avery Bradley, while a nice player, should never be the guy who stops you from acquiring a top 25 talent. Tobias Harris, a very good, young player, is on an affordable contract (only $15 million next year), but he’ll be VERY expensive the year after that. So, the money that the Pistons would have had to give to Tobias to keep him in two years is now being spent on keeping Blake Griffin, a much better player.
So, did the Pistons basically trade Tobias Harris for Blake Griffin? Avery doesn’t count, because he was gone, anyway, so he’s just salary; the draft picks cancel out with the two young dudes (at least, cost-wise); and, Detroit is protected if they get lucky or if they crater (remember, if the pick is top 4, they get to keep it).
Oh, wait, right: The Boban. Handsome Doctor of Basketball The Boban Marjanovic is VERY affordable this year at $5.8 million. However, next year his salary jumps to $9 million. That’s tough for a backup who you don’t play (Stan Van Gundy “loves” The Boban, but never lets him play; very curious). So, is this perhaps a bit of a salary dump, as well as a trade? Detroit’s sending picks and Tobias (Avery either gets traded again or he’s salary cap relief, he WON’T be resigning with the Clippers) in order to get Blake (who the Clippers don’t want because he’s “too expensive”) and dump The Boban (who the Pistons don’t want because he’s “too expensive”). Get it? Both teams are trying to save cash. The Boban just got caught in the middle of it. Detroit’s distilled several contracts into one, and Los Angeles has escaped from a long term commitment.
For Detroit, paying Blake now means you get more butts in seats in your new arena, AND you have several years in order to get your house in order (Langston Galloway should NOT have been signed) while advertising Detroit to free agents as a team with one of, if not the, best front courts in the NBA. Blake knows how to play with a center: he and Drum will be just fine. Especially since, surprise surprise! Drummond’s been passing this year, too! Drumothy is averaging 3.8 assists per game this season, FOURTH for centers, and top 60 overall in the NBA (out of players who average 20 minutes, at least, per game).
Two elite bigs, one of whom can shoot from outside, and both of whom can pass, and you can run the offense through either of them, hmmmm, does that sound like anyone? Some kind of twin tower kind of thingie? With, like, a distributing front court player, an athletic big, and unheralded guards shooting around them? And, everyone was super excited about them because they looked, and played, differently than Golden State and Houston? Oh yeah, of course, New Orleans, Boogie and the Brow! And, they were going to have to pay their Power Towers mucho dinero, too…
Blake and Drum may not be as good as Boogie and the Brow, but they’re going to look a helluva lot like them. I anticipate Blake’s outside shooting to skyrocket, as SVG has a bit of a history with encouraging his power forwards to shoot threes. And, remember, Drummond is only 24 years old. This trade may have as much to do with how Detroit wants him to continue developing as much as anything else. Now Drum gets a half-season to mesh with Blake, probably as a power point since RJax is injured and Ish Smith isn’t a viable starting point guard (How can Ish not shoot threes? EVERY BACKUP POINT GUARD SHOULD BE CAPABLE OF MAKING THREES.) People are concerned about Detroit’s spacing, but why? Like it was fantastic to begin with? Like the Pistons were this awesome team with no problems and adding a MUCH MUCH MUCH better player was a dumb idea? Blake’s gonna run the team, he’s going to work with Drum just like he did with DJ, they’re going to be the best rebounding duo in the NBA, and the Pistons will have the exact same problems that they had before the trade:
Donde esta shooting?
Donde esta IRL point guard?
Nothing works without shooting. And, say what you want about Tobias being a better outside shooter than Blake, I’ll still take the better player overall. It’s a little bit easier to attract free agents when you can say, Come play with Blake and Drum! Instead of Come play with Drum and, uh, Tobias, and maybe Reggie Jackson! Having Blake and Drummond, two of the best bigs in the game, is a way to attract shooting. How about Wayne Ellington next year? Or, Danny Green? Wesley Matthews, Old Man Reddick, Will Barton, Rudy Gay, KCP, LOU! WILLIAMS!, TYREKE! EVANS! Hell, let’s go crazy, and say Chris Paul, Paul George, and Melo, too, why not? The Pistons will be able to say “We have our front court, just come shoot for us, that’s all we need from you,” and that’ll convince an older player to maybe take less to join a team they think can challenge in the East (which, REMEMBER, MAY BE A CONFERENCE WITHOUT LEBRON JAMES NEXT YEAR). They won’t get the stars (unless God decides to retire his insolent and fruitless vendetta against yours truly), but Will Barton and Tyreke Evans would be super nice with Blake and Drum.
And, if Reggie can come back, shake the rust, and develop a rhythm with Blake and Drum, hopefully start draining more threes, then who knows what can happen? Why not Detroit, y’know? They now have two of the best 30 players in the whole league. When the hell has that been a bad thing before? Detroit WILL attract a quality player to come play with their two stars, it’s too tempting a possibility to ignore.
And, I know, I know: neither Blake nor Drum were All Stars this year. Y’know what? You convinced me. They’re both trash. Let’s dump them. Let’s have every team that didn’t fall ass backwards into LeBron or Steph dump all of their good players because they’ll never be as elite as some of the best who have ever lived. Let’s give up on competing until the King and Curry retire. Let’s hoard draft picks. Let’s only sign players to the minimum. Let’s not give out totally appropriate contracts to elite-level players who absolutely, positively deserve them (they deserve better!).
Let’s just have teams of potential and mock drafts, instead of actual players. Let’s not be better, since it’s so much less expensive to be worse. Let’s despair because a Detroit business decided to pay their workers well. Let’s grade them poorly because they decided to try. Let’s hate them because they understood that they were never going to win with Tobias Harris as their second best player. Let’s dismiss them because of an oft-injured point guard (remember Steph Curry’s ankles?).
And, let’s remember to call Stan Van Gundy stupid for thinking that having two elite players is better than only having one. The Pistons are better today than they were yesterday because BLAKE MF’ING GRIFFIN IS NOW ON THEIR TEAM. YOU GUYS. BLAKE’S A PRETTY GOOD GODDAMN BASKETBALL PLAYER. But, again, we’re in the doublethink land of New Sports: you lose when you get better.
The tut-tuters who just love to point out how much money the team will owe Bad Blake in a few years definitely have a point. Things might end badly for the Pistons. They may not make the playoffs. They may have to gut their team and start over. They may never get a good enough point guard, or enough shooting, or a conference without LeBron. But, at least they tried. They would have had all those exact same problems even if they hadn’t traded for Blake. They turned assets into one of the best players in the NBA. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
I’m a Pistons fan. I haven’t been this excited since we got Rasheed. My team’s trying again. They want to compete. They want as many of the best players as they can get, and damn the cost. Hell yeah. Let’s write our names in the sky, Pistons. Who dares wins, after all.
The New NBA, and sports in general, allows the Perfect to be the enemy of the Good, which leads to poor attendance, ratings, ill will from fans, and NO GUARANTEE that you’ll be able to turn those assets into a good team (see Orlando, Sacto, Phoenix). Why not be better if you have a chance to be? Why is it All or Nothing, At All? The Pistons are better today than they were yesterday. Do they still have problems? Sure. But, Blake Griffin isn’t a problem, no matter how much people hate on athletes having “large” contracts (Blake’s deal is a fraction of the treasure earned by the owners). The Pistons now have one Blake Griffin in the hand; in the real world, that’s better than having two potential players in the bush. You know how Houston always uses their picks to make trades for elite players? Yeah, that’s what SVG just did. If you like it when Daryl Morey does it, then why don’t you like it when Stan does? The money and the contracts will figure themselves out; what you NEED is to actually have good players playing together. If you don’t understand that, then maybe you don’t actually enjoy watching basketball. Maybe you just like to criticize.
Plus, do you have any idea how much changes in one year? Chris Paul was in LA, now he’s in Houston; Kyrie was in Cleveland, now he’s in Boston; Paul George was in Indiana, now he’s in OKC; Carmelo was in NYC, now OKC; Jimmy Butler was in Chicago, now he’s in Minnie; Gordon Hayward was in Utah, now he’s in Boston; Rubio was in Minnie, now he’s in Utah; Boogie was in Sacto, now he’s in Nawlins; Bledsoe in Phoenix, now Milwaukee; JJ Redick in LA, now in Philly. The point is to GET THE GOOD ONES, NO MATTER WHAT. Cleveland won a championship, so who cares how bad the books get afterwards? You’d trade a championship then for salary cap relief now? Why???
One final note: Cleveland plays the Pistons tonight. The Pistons will be without all the players involved in The Boban Marjanovic Trade. So, a skeleton crew.
Cleveland kinda has to win this game, don’t they? If they lose to a Detroit team at half-strength, that could be of larger consequence than any previous trades. That could be a moment of reckoning for Cleveland, especially since it’s a national game. It’s not a Must Win game, but it has the feel of a Must Not Lose game. If the Cavs fall through this floor, they may never reach the bottom.