Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has a plan – and a formula – for everything, including beating the Golden State Warriors.
While the conventional wisdom is that the Warriors’ reign over the NBA should butt up against the new decade, Morey is of the mindset that they can be beaten – soon.
“They are not unbeatable,” Morey told ESPN’s Zach Lowe earlier this month. “We are used to long odds. – If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve.”
That “something” up Morey’s sleeve might be another star to play alongside James Harden.
On Wednesday, Marc Stein reported that the Rockets are going to try to land another star player in free agency. Among them Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap.
The first two don’t make a ton of sense – Harden has established himself as a premier point guard in the NBA, and the Rockets could use help elsewhere. Millsap, whose chances of returning to Atlanta seem to diminish by the day, would be a great fit with Houston’s offence and bring some much-needed defensive skill to the Rockets.
But it was the fourth name Stein mentioned that should have Rockets fans buzzing:
Blake Griffin would be a perfect fit in Houston.
First, the financial logistics: The Rockets should have roughly $11.7 million in cap space heading into July’s free-agent period, but by moving some salary via trade – the chief chips being Ryan Anderson (three years remaining on deal, average salary $20 million), Lou Williams (one year remaining at $7 million) Patrick Beverley (two years remaining on deal, second year not guaranteed, at $5.27 million per season) – the Rockets could create enough cap space to sign a complimentary superstar to play alongside Harden.
Griffin can command a five-year, $177.5 million deal from the Clippers, should he opt to stay in Los Angeles, or a four-year, $131.6 million deal if he heads elsewhere. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table for Griffin, and that’s why there’s been little discussion of his pending free agency – of course he’s going back to the Clippers, right?
Well, the wild world of the NBA might be changing that presumption.
The Rockets can move the roughly $20 million they would need to offload to sign Griffin (who would likely sign a 1-and-1 deal, a la LeBron James and Kevin Durant), and the Clippers might not be as hellbent on keeping their core three of DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul and Griffin together.
Paul is going to look elsewhere this offseason – San Antonio has been rumored to be a possible landing spot for the point guard, though it would have to offload salary to sign him as well. The Clippers will have no choice but to sign Paul to a $207 million deal over five years.
That deal, plus DeAndre Jordan’s $22.6 million salary for next year, will be more than 50 percent of the Clippers’ salary against the cap next season. Even with Jordan’s $24 million option (which he would be a fool not to take) for 2018-19, those two contracts alone will make it difficult to be serious players in the 2018 offseason.
Signing Griffin to a market-level deal would make it next to impossible to add Paul George or LeBron James to the fold.
Recent events in Cleveland have made a LeBron to Los Angeles more viable, and the Clippers wouldn’t want to leave themselves out of the running for that, would they?
With the possibility of adding George or James looming a year from now, the Clippers have already looked to trade Jordan – but so far no biters.
The Clippers think highly of Jordan – perhaps too highly – but they also know the truth about how he fits on the team in the modern NBA.
Jordan is a pick-and-roll center, but he can’t space the floor. Griffin can space the floor well, but he’s not a true stretch-4 like Kevin Love built himself into in Cleveland – he’s still a pick-and-roll 4.
Paul doesn’t need two bigs whose key contribution to the Clippers’ offence is, when you boil it down, the same thing. The Clippers can be a 1-5 pick-and-roll team or a 1-4 pick-and-roll team, but they’ve shown they’re not going to be both, and seeing as both the 5 and 4 are poised to make big money, you can make an argument to sever ties with one of the two. There’s no room for redundancies in this NBA.
The Clippers have already tried to trade Jordan, so far to no avail, but they can also let Griffin walk this summer without penalty.
The Clippers wouldn’t be so obvious about it – the best play is to offer Griffin a contract that would, theoretically, still let them add James or George in free agency next summer. But that’s not a market-value deal.
And signing Griffin to a max contract and then looking to trade him is a dangerous proposition the Clippers’ brass shouldn’t trust their front office to execute without penalty, either. It’d be exceptionally difficult to clear that cap space at next year’s trading deadline or before next summer’s draft.
But by offering Griffin a short-term deal or less overall money, they could make the Houston option more attractive to the power forward. There wouldn’t be that much difference in money – and that’s not even factoring in Texas’ lack of state tax against California’s 13.3 percent).
The opportunity to play with the Rockets should be highly attractive to Griffin, as his skill set would almost perfectly suit Houston’s offensive style.
Yes, Morey might have to allow for a few midrange jumpers with Griffin, but the 1-4 pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop game with Harden and Griffin would be lethal. Griffin could become an offensive apocalypse in Houston.
With the Rockets, Griffin would play more stretch-5 than in Los Angeles and he’d always be the complementary playmaker to Harden, who facilitates all four of his teammates when he’s playing. Plus, he’d have an equal – if not better – chance to beat the Warriors in the Western Conference.
Griffin could use a new start as well – at least from the outsider’s perceptive. There’s a perception that Griffin’s game has stagnated in L.A. That’s not true – he’s improved it every year: It was the team that stagnated.
But with his injuries and the baseline problem that he was far too often the odd man out in the Clippers’ offence, it was easy to make him a scapegoat for L.A.’s problems.
In Houston, Griffin would be viewed as a game-changer. Perhaps it wouldn’t work with him and Harden – perhaps the talent around the two would diminish to the point where adding Blake would be a net-zero (or worse) proposition – but the upside stands to be incredible. The “risk profile” is high, but so is the reward.
It’s a win for all, save for Griffin’s chequebook (for now).
Griffin, in an offense that better suits to his inside-out game, could re-introduce himself to the NBA in Houston. He could remind everyone why he’s considered a superstar in the league – it’s been a while since we were blinded by his talent.
Houston would benefit, too. The Rockets relied on Harden for nearly 100 percent of their offense in the postseason – opponents caught on and the team and Harden faded. Adding Griffin would lessen the load on Harden and expand the Rockets’ offensive repertoire.
And the Clippers – they’d get their salary cap space and a chance to enter the Paul George and LeBron sweepstakes. They might even be able to land both of them if they play their cards just right. For a team that has maxed out with its current crop of players, letting Griffin walk could bring a necessary refresh.
There’s a million – or 207 million – different ways NBA free agency could go down, but as we approach the new league year, don’t count out Blake Griffin to the Rockets. It makes so much sense it might just happen.