Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, right, along with guard Chris Paul on the bench against the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportrswire)
Los Angeles Clippers

Column: Trading Blake Griffin is NOT the Answer for Clippers

Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportrswire

*Cues ESPN 30 For 30 Music*

What if I told you the sixth best team in the NBA was contemplating trading their - at worst - second best player? What if that player was a bonafide superstar who every other team in the league would give a limb to acquire?

I fully understand why Blake Griffin is being given the “he gotta go” treatment. Between breaking his hand pummeling a Los Angeles Clippers equipment manager, and the team going 18-5 with Griffin on the sidelines this season, I suppose now’s as good of a time as ever to argue that the five-time All-Star is dispensable.

The Clippers were 17-13 on the season prior to Griffin suffering a quadricep injury on Christmas Day, and in his absence, the offense has proven capable of performing at an incredibly high level without its leading scorer. In fact, the Clippers are top five in both offensive rating, and defensive rating, as well as third overall in the NBA in net rating in the 23 games they’ve played without Griffin, per NBA.com.

These are impressive stats, and with guys like J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan arguably playing the best basketball of their careers with Griffin out, maybe the team would benefit from seeing what they could add to the fold in exchange for the high-flying big man.

Lord knows depth has been the biggest issue for this organization as they’ve battled to get to the top of the Western Conference these last couple of seasons, which is clear as their bench is 13th in net rating this season, and was 17th last season.

But here’s the thing: The Clippers have been as good as they’ve been the last couple of seasons BECAUSE they have Griffin. That isn’t to say Chris Paul isn’t their best player—for me it’s sort of a coin flip—but just the way the team’s performing at a high level without Griffin and running through Paul, it’s done the same in stretches Paul’s missed thanks to Griffin. During the 2013-14 season, the Clippers went 13-6 in the 19 games that Griffin played without Paul, and he finished third in MVP voting that season.

I could also understand Coach/GM Doc Rivers thinking to himself that his team’s best isn’t good enough to get them past the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. I understand that logic leading to “we’re playing well without Blake, maybe we move him and get a few more pieces that can take us over the top.” Unless you’re getting Kevin Durant, what player(s) puts them on the same level as the Warriors?

Also, I just don’t understand how much better the Clippers think they can get when you take into consideration how good they’ve been with this core. I know they don’t have any jewelry to show for it, but they were first in offensive rating and second in net rating the two previous seasons ( 2013-14 and 2014-15). Not that I think they would’ve beaten the Warriors had they gotten to the Western Conference Finals, but they were up 3-1 on the Houston Rockets, so they were literally a game away from being a final four team.

It’s hard in today’s NBA to continually be one of the better teams in the league and not, at least, have a conference finals appearance to show for it, but the response to this isn’t to take steps backward and hope you wind up better as a result.

We all live in the now, so the Clippers playing better without Griffin this season can’t possibly be a result of a weak schedule and rotation tweaks, but rather a consensus top-ten player just not being that valuable.

This is insane.

Dec. 21, 2015 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - The Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, right, fakes shooting and passes to DeAndre Jordan during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Dec. 21, 2015 - Los Angeles, CA, USA - The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, right, fakes shooting and passes to DeAndre Jordan during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s get back to looking at what a Clippers team without Griffin could potentially look like. I’m going to skip that Durant rumor, and focus on the next best player who might possibly be available, Carmelo Anthony. Yes Anthony spaces the floor better than Griffin and is a more capable perimeter threat, I guess. But again the Clippers have had the top ranked offense in the NBA for two of the last three seasons and are still top five this season. Anthony will be 32 this May, and has shown that the mileage on his body is beginning to catch up. He’s also every bit as much of the ball stopper that Griffin gets criticized for being, and doesn’t have much experience playing with a ball dominant point guard.

And while the Knicks don’t really have any other assets to either bolster the Clippers depth or help them rebuild for life after Melo/CP3, maybe the Clippers would prefer to deal with a team that can give them quantity over quality.

This brings the Boston Celtics into the equation, who have been in most rumors revolving around sending assets for a player ready to win now. I don’t know who Danny Ainge’s untouchables are, but if I’m the Clippers, I’m probably asking for Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, and one of Avery Bradley/Marcus Smart or a first round pick. Olynyk and Crowder would give the Clippers additional defensive toughness, and feasibly replace Griffin’s rebounding, but neither have the ability to make plays the way Griffin can, which he displayed throughout last season’s playoff run as the team’s go-to scorer.

The Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards could also feasibly put together nice packages of picks and role players ready to help round out the Clippers roster, but are any of these guys good enough to make up for the impact of Griffin not being there?  Without Griffin on the team, and this isn’t a slight to Redick at all, Paul is literally the only player who can create offense for himself as well as other players.

I actually think Griffin getting hurt helped Rivers immensely by allowing to see what roles other players would fit best in when the team is 100 percent healthy. This opportunity has allowed Luc Mbah a Moute to prove his value as a defense-first small ball power forward, while Wesley Johnson and Paul Pierce have been able to play both forward positions, and even Cole Aldrich has shown his ability to fill in as a competent big man.

I also think this roster, despite lacking a true backup point guard, has one of the better/deeper backcourts in the league, with Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and even Lance Stephenson re-defining their roles on the team to backup Paul and Redick, who make up one of the best starting backcourts in the NBA.

It’s not enough to say “you’re good enough the way you are, even if there are teams better than you” to a team with two top-ten players on it, but trading Griffin just doesn’t seem like the right way for this team to improve. You can’t go back in time and figure out better ways to fill the roster than by signing Josh Smith and Paul Pierce, but this team’s problem isn’t Blake Griffin and has never been starting five related.

Griffin is feasibly the best power forward in the NBA right now, and even though it makes sense for the Clippers to go for it now while they have an aging Paul, keeping their 26-year old stud big man seems like the best way to accomplish that.

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