Blake Griffin was once one of the biggest box-office stars in the NBA.
He made the All-Star Game his rookie year. He dated a Kardashian. He won over a generation of fans when he took first place in the slam dunk contest in 2011, leaping over a Kia Ultima, grabbing the ball from teammate Baron Davis who was sticking out of the sunroof and then slamming it home.
Griffin, 31, isn’t dunking over cars anymore. In fact, he isn’t dunking period. Griffin, who has struggled through a string of knee injuries over recent years, hasn’t dunked in a game since Dec. 12, 2019.
The Blake Griffin who signed with the Nets this week is only a shadow of the high-flying superstar he was in his early years with the Clippers. Yet, his addition to an already star-laden team is just the sort of small tweak that could make a big difference as the Nets get deeper into the playoffs and contend for a title.
Injuries have dramatically altered Griffin’s game as he has replaced his rim attacks with three-point shots and an ability to make plays for others. More than half his attempts this season have come from beyond the arc. In 20 games with Detroit, he averaged a career-low 12.3 points per game while shooting just 36% from the floor.
These are far from All-Star numbers. Yet, Griffin is not joining a team where he is expected to be the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or even No. 4 scoring option. He is joining a team that in the postseason is going to need what he has to offer: Extensive playoff experience, an underrated playmaking ability, court smarts and a burning desire to win a title.
With the Nets, Griffin, for the first time in his career, is going to be expected to fill a complementary role rather than be a focal point of the offense. He likely will come off the bench along with former Clippers teammate DeAndre Jordan, former Pistons teammate Bruce Brown, Tyler Johnson and Landry Shamet.
"We know the athletic and high-jumping Blake," James Harden said of his new teammate on Sunday. "But these last couple years he’s knocking down the three ball a little bit better, ballhandling is a lot better and he can be a great contributor to this team."
Griffin, who will meet with the Nets media for the first time since the trade on Wednesday, made it clear Monday in a Q&A on Bleacher Report Live’s app that his big motivation for coming to the Nets was a chance to win it all.
"My only goal is to help win a championship," Griffin said. "Some years it’s more realistic than others. But that’s why I came to Brooklyn."
The addition of Griffin does nothing to address the Nets’ defensive problems, but the truth is there is no one out there at this price point who did.
Griffin, who had his contract bought out by Detroit last month as they decided to go on a rebuild, was willing to sign a veteran minimum deal of $1.23 million with a cap hit of $776,000. That means the Nets retain some flexibility as they approach the trade deadline on March 25 and the buyout deadline on April 9.
The Nets come out of the All-Star break as the hottest team in the NBA, having won 10 of their last 11 games. They also come out of it having added a complementary piece that has the potential to make them a better team.
No, Griffin is not a car-vaulting superstar anymore. But he might be just what the Nets needed.