Column: Blake Griffin’s buyout from the Detroit Pistons marks the end of an era


Courtesy of CBS Sports

Zack Goodrow, Sports Editor

March 5, 2021 marked an end of a severely mediocre era for Detroit Pistons basketball. Twelve-year forward Blake Griffin was bought out by the team as the Pistons were unable to find a trade partner. Three days later, Griffin signed with the Brooklyn Nets. He’ll now look to rejuvenate his career as a role player on a team filled with superstars. 

Throughout his career, Griffin has been an explosive player and a fan favorite. After jumping over a Kia Optima in the 2011 NBA Dunk Contest, Griffin became a star player on an extremely successful Los Angeles Clippers team. For the next six seasons, Griffin, guard Chris Paul, and center DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers to be a consistent threat in the NBA playoffs.

Too many unsuccessful runs at an NBA Championship led to the destruction of the teams core, leaving just Griffin as the only star left. Griffin signed a five year $173 million contract to stay in L.A. and to end his career in the city where it began it in. 

In January of 2018 however, Griffin was dealt in a shocking move to the Pistons. Forward Tobias Harris, guard Avery Bradley, center Boban Marjanović, and a first and second round pick were exchanged for essentially just Griffin. The following year, Griffin would have his statistical best season as the Pistons’ star player.

He averaged 24.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and showed off his new shooting stroke from three, landing 36% of his shots from downtown. He was named an All-Star and was a member of the All-NBA Third Team that season. Griffin almost single handedly led Detroit to the playoffs as the eight seed. They proceeded to be swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in an uncompetitive series. 

The following two seasons were plagued by injuries for Griffin. He appeared in only 18 games in the 2019-20 season and played in only 20 games for the Pistons this season before he was benched for the remainder of his tenure with the team.

This season Griffin has struggled and he looks like a shell of his former self with knee troubles. Griffin averaged only 12.3 PPG with a disappointing 37% shooting mark from the field. Griffin’s release from Detroit fully sent the team into a long term rebuild. 

Some Detroit fans were unimpressed by Griffin’s time with the team and are happy to see him gone. To some, Griffin simply didn’t lead the team to bigger heights and he could have done more. A player who is labeled as a star and making upwards of $30 million a year should have found more success in Detroit. 

Griffin didn’t ask to be traded to the Motor City however. When he got here, he was nothing but professional and never complained. He played hard and had fun leading the team.

Griffin was also surrounded by a terrible supporting cast. He did all that he could for the franchise and then some. Griffin should be celebrated by Detroit fans for his demeanor, play on the court, and how he gradually started to enjoy being a part of this mediocre team. He shouldn’t be chastised for not leading this team to NBA contender status. 

It remains to be seen if Griffin will add any value to the Nets this season. He has struggled immensely this year even with a reduced role. If he can find some of his old athleticism and can be a consistent catch-and-shoot player from behind the arc, he’ll be a valuable asset. Reinventing his game yet again could pay dividends for him as he still wants to continue his NBA career. 

When Griffin was with the Pistons, the team was filled with mediocre players with playoff aspirations. These Pistons teams were going absolutely nowhere. A perennial longing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference was a terrible watch for Pistons fans. Without Griffin, Detroit wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in 2019.

For the better part of last decade, Detroit was filled with below average players, win-now free agency and trade additions, and bad draft picks. The Pistons were in the worst spot a professional sports team can be in. They were never contenders, never rebuilding, and never worth national attention or the support from their fanbase. 

Now, the Pistons are in an exciting spot. The national NBA narrative on this team has been consistently wrong. Some media members and outlets label the Pistons as a team struggling, with little bright spots, and a team with no immediate future. That’s okay, however, and should be celebrated. The Pistons now have hope which has been absent from the franchise for several seasons. 

Forward Jerami Grant is now a new fan favorite and looks to be one of the front runners for the NBA Most Improved Player award. He’s averaging a career high 23.2 PPG as the face of the team. Rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah “Beef Stew” Stewart have been killing it so far this season. Both have improved tremendously as the NBA season has progressed and look like solid pieces for the team in the future.

While rookie Killian Hayes has been sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he showed some upside in his vision and passing abilities on the court. Even rookie second round pick Saben Lee has balled out in some games. 

Even with a bottom five record in the NBA, the Pistons are exciting to watch. They are competitive in almost every game they play, even if it ends with a loss. The team is playing well together and with a lot of energy. There’s bright spots all around the roster and the young core is a joy to see develop. Unlike in the Blake Griffin era, the Pistons have nothing more to do than develop their players, learn, and have fun on the court. 

Detroit now has excitement as an NBA franchise. For the next few years, Detroit will acquire more talent and develop the proper way. The Griffin buyout signals an end of an era in Detroit. No longer are the Pistons stuck in NBA limbo.

They have the flexibility to improve and are only trending upwards from here. Griffin’s departure from the team gives both parties new opportunities to extend their longevity in the NBA. While it may have ended ugly, Detroit fans should salute Griffin as he puts on his new Brooklyn uniform for the first time this week.