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This Blake Griffin Speculation Is Getting Absurd

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Journalists all over the country are speculating about the future of Blake Griffin. The assumption is that he won't stay with the Clippers for long, but the reality is different.

Journalists all over the country are speculating about the future of Blake Griffin. The assumption is that he won't stay with the Clippers for long, but the reality is different.
Journalists all over the country are speculating about the future of Blake Griffin. The assumption is that he won't stay with the Clippers for long, but the reality is different.

The Clippers are all over the SB Nation NBA page these days. Blake Griffin features prominently in Andrew Sharp's State of the NBA Union address. Tom Ziller dutifully reports on Eric Gordon's injury, which sadly followed closely on Mike Prada's exuberant piece on Gordon last week.

But the post that really caught my eye was Ziller's evisceration of Mac Engel's column in Wednesday's Fort Worth Star Telegram. There's been plenty of ludicrous speculation surrounding Griffin from journalists who'd prefer that Blake Superior play for their favorite teams. Most of them display a tenuous grasp of reality, and a near total lack of understanding of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). But as Ziller points out, Engel's ramblings have taken the surrealism to a new level.

Not only does Engel show a remarkable level of disengagement with the reality of NBA free agency, the rookie scale and cap rules, but the level of presumption and absurd canyon-leaping is, well, absurd.

Well put, TZ.

A constant source of frustration for the citizens of Clips Nation flows from the basic premise that, because these are the Clippers we are talking about, anything and everything is fair game. Engel's conclusion sums the external view of Clipperdom up nicely:

If it were any other franchise, it would be implausible that the Mavs, or any other team, would be able to sign this type of talent as a free agent. But this is the Clippers, an organization with a history so unbelievable it would be rejected by science fiction.

Griffin will want out by the time he's a free agent. The Mavs need to have the cap space to sign him.

Well guess what? It is the Clippers, and it's still implausible.

Ziller has already deconstructed most of Mr. Engel's biggest logical disconnects. Suffice it to say that he's decided to target the summer of 2013, when Griffin would be a RESTRICTED free agent (RFA) as the target date for clearing cap space to acquire the object of his affections. The presumption by Engel would seem to be that the Mavs will make an offer, and the Clippers will decide not to match it, a right they would have for their RFA.

This idea represents what I feel is the single biggest misunderstanding about Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling. People seem to think he's cheap in the sense of "I refuse to pay that much money for anything, period." That's not DTS at all. He's a businessman, and he likes to make money and he LOVES a bargain, and maybe you can call him cheap because he loves a bargain, but it's not as if he's unwilling to spend. Let's face it, he wouldn't own an NBA team if that were the case. The best bargain in the NBA is the true maximum player - the LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard player that would be making two or three times MORE money if salary maximums didn't exist. Do you think Donald Sterling sees an apartment property that he believes is worth $200 million, but won't buy it for $100 million because "$100 million is a lot of money?" Hell no. He snaps it up. I don't like Donald Sterling by any means, but he's not a bad businessman, and NOT matching an offer to Blake Griffin would be very, very bad business.

The other hilarious aspect of Engel's column is the idea of the Mavericks actually clearing cap space to make this offer. The Mavericks have the third highest payroll in basketball, and have been in the top three since Mark Cuban bought the team. They have operated above the salary cap, and indeed above the luxury tax, for years on end. As of now, they have $41 million committed to THREE PLAYERS in 2013 (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood). With just those three and roster holds, they'd barely have enough to make a max offer; the idea of Cuban gutting the team to make a run at a RESTRICTED free agent is (we keep coming back to this word) absurd.

The absurd talk in LA has at least had the decency to focus on the summer of 2014. Steve Mason and John Ireland of ESPN radio discussed this idea (plan? dream? wishful scenario? hallucination?) last week, and then brought the Sports Guy Bill Simmons into the discussion. Mason and Ireland, who are it must be remembered, Lakers hacks working for the Lakers station, have decided that Blake needs to move down the hall in 2014, and that Blake surely must want this as well, since, hey, he's in LA, he has eyes, he sees what's happening here. Simmons, for his part, sees Blake back home in Oklahoma City with the Thunder. The topic even made an appearance on PTI, so somehow this is a national 'story'.

Let's just return to reality for a moment and review how this all works.

Bearing in mind that a new CBA will be in place (either before or after a lockout this summer) and that some of the details may change, I'm going to use the current CBA rules as a basis for the discussion since (a) it's what we have and (b) the new CBA will by all accounts be MORE owner friendly, so it would be highly unlikely that any rule changes would make it harder for the Clippers to retain Griffin's services. For instance, an NFL-style franchise tag is being pushed by some owners.

We've already gone over restricted free agency a bit, and why Engel's "Blake to Dallas in 2013" plan doesn't make any sense.

But even before 2013, the Clippers, under current CBA rules, would have the opportunity to offer Griffin a contract extension in the summer of 2012. For a talent of Griffin's level, teams ALWAYS offer that extension and players ALWAYS sign it.

If the Clippers for some reason didn't offer the extension and/or if Griffin for some reason didn't sign it, he would become a restricted free agent in 2013. At that time, any offer sheet he signed with any other team could be matched by the Clippers - which of course they would do.

If Griffin's only goal in life is to get away from the Clippers by any means necessary as quickly as he possibly can under the current contract rules, he could refuse to sign an extension in 2012, refuse to sign any offer sheet in 2013, refuse to sign a new contract with the Clippers in 2013, and instead sign a one year qualifying offer in 2013 that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. This is Mason and Ireland's scenario - that he would be an unrestricted free agent right at the time that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would be at the end of their deals (not to mention 36 and 34).

OK, so at least there's a viable way Griffin could be available in 2014, but how realistic is this scenario? Here is the complete list of NBA players since the implementation of the current system who have eschewed signing a maximum contract and instead signed a qualifying offer in order to reach unrestricted free agency sooner:

  • nobody

It has never happened. Now, obviously there can be a first time for everything, and Mason and Ireland would say that anything's possible, even likely, with Donald T. Sterling in charge. Unfortunately, there's really no precedent for that either. Elton Brand didn't do it. Lamar Odom didn't do it. Michael Olowokandi did turn down a much bigger (but not nearly maximum) offer from the Clippers in order to take the QO back in 2002, not because he was determined to leave the Clippers but because he believed he could make more on the open market - he was wrong.

At any rate, the Lakers scenario, such as it is, is that Blake Griffin, in a series of decisions literally unprecedented in the annals of the NBA, would become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. Of course, Griffin is the only one that can make that happen, not the Lakers, and he would be leaving a lot of money on the table to do so. How much money?

The difference between a first round draft pick's qualifying offer (Greg Oden, $8,788,681) and a maximum extension for a player in the same draft (Kevin Durant, $13,603,750) is almost $5 million in actual lost salary. Of course the bigger issue is the guaranteed money. Durant signed an extension in 2010 for over $82 million. For the right to become an unrestricted free agent as soon as possible, a maximum player would have to leave that money on the table for TWO FULL seasons before his next big pay day. I'm sure that Blake Griffin wants to make Mason and Ireland happy (I mean, who doesn't really?), but an injury in those intervening two years could cost him $80 million to $100 million. I guess I'm saying, there's a reason no one's ever gone that route.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Mason and Ireland comedy tour is the part where Ireland asks "What are the odds that the Clippers don't screw this up?" and Mason replies "Zero. Zero percent." Wow. That's an extraordinarily precise number to place on an extraordinarily vague concept. Of course, we don't know what Mason's definition of "Screw this up" is. Maybe the Clippers have already screwed it up in his mind (really, that's the only logical explanation for a prediction of "zero percent"). Maybe when the Clippers allowed Griffin to get injured last year, they screwed it up. Maybe by not returning a phone call to Mason once they screwed it up. That's the beauty part. It can mean whatever he wants it to mean. But if the question is, "What are the odds that Blake Griffin will be a Clipper during the 2014-2015 season?" the answer is of course significantly higher than "zero" percent. It's more in the 90% to 95% range. And by the way, the odds that Griffin's a Laker in 2014 would approach zero.

Neil Olshey tried to address this issue last week when he told Ramona Shelburne that Griffin would "only ever be a Clipper." Of course, that is almost as ludicrous a statement as any made by Mason or Ireland. (Note to Neil, never respond to absurd, unjustifiable hyperbole with absurd, unjustifiable hyperbole; even if you're being ironic, the irony is usually lost on absurd, hyperbolic people.) All the Clippers can do is offer the appropriate contracts, and I have no doubt that they will. I fully believe Olshey when he says that he'll be on Griffin's door step with that maximum contract extension in the first week in July in 2012, and in all probability Griffin will sign it. But Griffin is 21 years old, and if he signs a five year extension that kicks in in 2013, he'll be a free agent again in 2018, at the age of 29. There's absolutely no telling what will happen then - just ask the fans in Cleveland.

I actually wonder why the Engels and Irelands of the world are bothering to wait so long to get Griffin, as long as reality isn't a constraint? As little plausibility as their scenarios have, why not just come up with a 'plan' to acquire Griffin now. Griffin is making $5.3 million this season. How about Luke Walton for Blake Griffin? Done. Griffin's a Laker now, which is what everyone wants. That was easy, and makes about as much sense as 2014. You want him to be a Maverick, Mac? DeShawn Stevenson for Griffin works, AND Stevenson's contract is expiring, so Sterling saves money, which is of course the only thing he cares about. So much easier than waiting until 2013.

Anything can happen of course, but if we use history and logic and the realities of the NBA collective bargaining agreement as our guide, the only logical conclusion is that Blake Griffin will be a Clipper until well after 2014. Condolences to the Lakers and Mavs and Thunder and all the other teams out there who covet him. He's not going anywhere. Not yet anyway. Start clearing cap space for 2018.