Isay: Analyzing Blake Griffin and the NBA’s buyout market

Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Drummond were the NBA buyout market’s biggest names this year. All three players signed with title contenders: Griffin and Aldridge signed with the Nets, and Andre Drummond signed with the Lakers. 

According to CBS Sports, a buyout “occurs when a player and team mutually decide to part ways. The player surrenders an agreed-upon amount of his guaranteed salary, and in exchange, is released and allowed to sign with any other team as a free agent.”

Veteran players, who only have a few years left in their NBA careers, are usually prime candidates for buyouts. Often, these players will be in the final year of their contract. 

A buyout works as an agreement: the team gets to save some money from it, and the players get to find a new team that fits them better or allows them to compete for a championship. The buyout market only comes into question when players look significantly better on their new team than their former team. 

Blake Griffin, for example, had not dunked since 2019 before joining the Brooklyn Nets in March. Griffin’s observed inability to dunk anymore implied that the formerly infamous slammer was too far past his athletic prime to be a productive NBA player. That was until he joined the Nets, and he dunked in his first game with the team. This made many fans ask: was Blake Griffin intentionally looking bad while he was with the Pistons so he could get bought out and join a championship contender?

I don’t think Griffin purposely appeared washed while he was with the Pistons. His supposed “revival” with the Nets could be due to a variety of factors:

  1. He is no longer the focal point of an offense. In Detroit, Griffin was often regarded as either the best or the second-best offensive player on his team at all times. Griffin is likely past the point of his career where his team can rely on him to be one of their best scorers. He is not athletic enough to get to the rim consistently when the defense is focused on him. In Brooklyn, he does not have the same responsibility to score – he is surrounded by James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant who can all score at will, and Joe Harris and Jeff Green, who are both excellent three-point shooters. Griffin has significantly less pressure on him in Brooklyn than he did in Detroit. 
  2. He isn’t built to play 31 minutes per game anymore. Blake Griffin is 32 years old and has suffered many injuries over the course of his career. It may be that his body can’t handle playing 30+ minutes every game. In Brooklyn, Blake is averaging 19 minutes per game, and this reduced time seems to have helped him handle playing in an NBA game again.
  3. We see an example of what happens when you go from playing on a bottom-feeding team to playing on the best team. The Detroit Pistons are currently the third-worst team in the NBA. They have a much better chance of getting the first overall pick in the draft than making the playoffs. I’m sure Blake Griffin is significantly more motivated to play well on a championship team than on the Pistons. He is in the spotlight of national television practically every night he sees the floor, whereas before only die-hard Detroit Pistons fans were watching. 

While it is frustrating to watch the best teams get better through the buyout market, I don’t think there is anything fundamentally wrong with it. Sure, it is wrong if a player tries to appear worse so that he can go to a new team, but I don’t think that was what happened in the Blake Griffin situation. I also don’t think that will happen in the future; players have too much pride to play worse than they actually can. And at the end of the day, Brooklyn is also not adding two more superstars to their roster. Blake Griffin is a role player at this point in their career, and LaMarcus Aldridge just retired because of an irregular heartbeat. Although it appeared like Brooklyn adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge was unfair, the additions in the buyout market do not make Brooklyn significantly better than they were before.