Blake Griffin helped turn the Los Angeles Clippers into must-see TV. Paired with Chris Paul, the two All-Stars formed “Lob City“, which not only made the Clippers a high-flying, exciting basketball team, but also one that finally became a postseason regular.
However, LA made the tough decision to move on from its franchise star in 2018, ushering in a new era in Hollywood. While Griffin understands it was purely a business decision, he shared the uncomfortably awkward way he found out he was on the trading block.
The Los Angeles Clippers reached their ceiling with Blake Griffin
Griffin came to the Clippers as the first overall pick in 2009 and quickly changed the direction of the franchise. After missing his rookie year with a knee injury, the former Oklahoma Sooner began his playing career with five consecutive All-Star appearances from 2011 to 2015. But more importantly, LA began to win more than it ever has.
Before Griffin’s arrival, the Clippers had four postseason appearances during their time in Los Angeles. But by Griffin’s second season on the court, LA began a stretch of six straight playoff berths. Additionally, they won 50 or more games in all but one of those seasons, something they had never accomplished even during their time in Buffalo, New York.
However, LA’s goal wasn’t just to make the playoffs. The Clippers never made it past the second round with Griffin and Paul, even after a franchise-best 57-win campaign in 2013-14. Additionally, Griffin began to struggle with injuries, missing over half of the 2015-16 season and playing in just 61 games the following year.
Griffin confronted his GM about trade rumors
Despite injuries and playoff disappointment, the Clippers made a long-term commitment to Griffin. In July 2017, owner Steve Ballmer and general manager Michael Winger signed the forward to a five-year, $171 million extension. However, Griffin would soon realize his time in LA might not be guaranteed.
First, the Clippers traded Paul to the Houston Rockets just weeks before signing Griffin. Second, LA was skidding throughout the 2017-18 season, barely able to stay more than a game or two above .500.
Concerned about his status with the team, Griffin unsuccessfully called his agent for answers. From there, the veteran went up to his GM’s office to ask if he was being shopped. The interaction was uncomfortable, to say the least (h/t: In Depth with Graham Bensinger)
“I went up there to his assistant and I was like, ‘Hey, is he in there?’ And he was like, ‘Uh, I think he’s in a meeting.’ And he looked a little shook when I walked up there.
I’m like, ‘Tell him I wanna talk to him.’ And so, he goes in there and [Winger] comes out a little bit later. And he’s like, ‘Hey, uh, you know, let’s go in … uh, let’s go in here to this other office.’ And he goes to open the door, and it’s locked. So he turns to his assistant, and he’s like, ‘Uh, can you get the keys for this?’ And … his assistant scurries off.
So, it’s just me and him and he’s like, ‘How … how’s it going?’
I was just like, ‘You tell me.’ And he’s like… We’re standing there just awkward, just a moment of awkwardness for, I don’t know, a good 20 seconds. He’s like, ‘All right, let’s just go in my office.’”Blake Griffin
Once the two finally made it into the office, Griffin got the answer he was looking for.
“He starts with the, ‘You know, a player of your caliber …’ and I was like, ‘No, don’t, c’mon. I don’t need all that, I just want to know,” said Griffin. “And he’s like, ‘You’ll be the first call’ and I was like, ‘Alright, I appreciate it.'”
Blake Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons
Soon after the uncomfortable conversation with Winger, Griffin’s time in LA was up. On January 29, 2018, just over six months after signing an extension, Blake was traded to the Detroit Pistons.
However, Griffin wasn’t exactly the first to know as his GM promised.
“I was driving home, I went to pick up my kids,” Griffin said. “I saw [Adrian Wojnarowski’s] tweet that says the Clippers and Pistons are finalizing a deal. But also my friend was giving me updates the whole time, saying, ‘It’s at the one-yard line.’ And that was it.”
Griffin ended up having a short stretch of dominance in Detroit. The 32-year-old made his sixth All-Star team in 2018-19, averaging 24.5 points and 7.5 boards in 75 games. But he would go on to play just 38 games for the Pistons the next two seasons before being waived and signing with the Brooklyn Nets in March 2021.
The Clippers, meanwhile, have built around a new core. About 18 months after trading Griffin, LA landed superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. In addition, the franchise also reached its first Western Conference Final in history in 2021 before falling to the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Griffin harbors no ill feelings toward the Clippers. But he’ll never forget that awkward encounter before he was traded.