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Miami Heat

How Blake Griffin and Heat could make each other better

Miami Heat forward James Johnson (16) defends LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in Miami. The Clippers defeated the Heat 102-98. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Steve Ballmer truly wants to take ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers — in more than a merely nominal way. A new arena in Inglewood, California, is on the way. Jerry West is coming on board as an adviser, ideally allowing Doc Rivers to put more thought into coaching than making questionable decisions as the president of basketball operations. Ballmer’s strong stance on the team includes retaining his superstars, but that may not be so easy.

For everything LA has to offer Blake Griffin as the ideal home for all his pursuits in the media industry and entertainment comedy, he isn’t tied to his next big deal in the same way that Chris Paul is: Simply put, it shouldn’t be his final notable contract. Whereas Paul has over $205 million to stay for, Griffin doesn’t face that same financial tug. As is the case with Paul, the Clippers’ constant shortcomings must also be a factor for Griffin.

Even though his body has betrayed him with a bunch of injuries and knee problems, zapping his Kendrick-Perkins-obliterating athleticism, he’s still only 28, has tremendous skill that can’t be taken away by injuries, and could succeed on a team where he has the chance to control the ball more as the point power forward/center he plays at a very high level. (Earlier this week, I wrote more on that here, discussing how with no Chris Paul next to him controlling the ball on most possessions, Griffin could thrive in Boston.)

Similarly to Boston, Griffin could have that in Miami.

With Pat Riley’s persuasive savvy at the forefront of the team’s front office — and around $38 million in cap space — the Heat could be big players in free agency. They’re going after Gordon Hayward and Griffin, the latter being the logical Plan B. As Jared Dudley reiterated on The Basketball Analogy podcast with ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, he could see his former teammate heading to Miami if he leaves LA. It’s an attractive location that obviously doesn’t need Dudley’s blessing to appeal to Griffin. Joining Erik Spoelstra and Riley certainly adds to the culture.

It’s also easy to imagine Spoelstra’s wisdom and the intense approach to training and defending in Miami benefiting Griffin’s defense, which — at the start of last season — was sound. He was effectively using his agility (of course, he still can’t stay glued to super fast wings that drop to power forward), making the right rotations, and actively keeping himself in the correct spots.

Offense is the obvious source of his appeal, though. The Heat will benefit from additional offensive firepower to lift them into the Eastern Conference playoffs next year:

Dion Waiters was all kinds of elbow-crossing, buzzer-beating fun with his best year yet. Goran Dragic was close to his 2013-14 All-NBA standard. Hassan Whiteside was solid with 17 points and 14.1 rebounds a game, and the Heat’s stout defense, balance and shooting made them an entirely different team from the one which started 11-30.

They need more than Dragic and the complementary ball-handling of Waiters (who could leave for a well-earned pay raise this summer) to lead their offense. Griffin could do that, serving as the new top scorer and go-to playmaking creator from the elbows that would add a completely different dynamic to the Heat’s offense.

He could be an excellent pick-and-roll/pop partner with the probing passing of Dragic. He could also flourish inside from good floor spacing, the result of the shooting the Heat could offer with Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, Tyler Johnson and Dragic. Having Griffin attack inside, deliver passes to cutters at the end of some of the Heat’s neat offensive sets, and simply hit shooters out of double teams would help Miami a lot. Plus, it’s important to note Griffin’s improvement as a shooter himself. Once Doc Rivers asked Griffin to increase his attempts, the far-more-than-a-dunker averaged 1.1 made 3s over the last 30 games of the season at a 37.1 percent rate.

If Spoelstra can give enough minutes to Griffin as a small-ball center surrounded by four shooters (and the versatility of James Johnson at four, if he can be re-signed), he’ll be at his absolute best. Griffin is one of the best passing bigs in the NBA no matter how he operates, and that skill is only heightened with units that are small, fast, 3-point heavy and make him initiate the offense.

As for the starting five, there are some negatives to a Griffin-Whiteside frontcourt. When fondly looking back at Chris Bosh, Griffin isn’t close defensively. He isn’t a rim protector, a stellar pick-and-roll stopper, or the perfect defensive option to pair with Whiteside. That said, partnering Griffin with another massive, high-flying rim roller in Whiteside opens up possibilities for more 4-5 pick-and-rolls, similar to what the Clippers could do with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, just with a bit less bounce. Griffin is also a better rebounder than his 8.1-per-game average from this season suggests (there aren’t as many available when playing with Jordan). Seeing him tear away in transition to either dive to the rim or dish to trailing shooters would look fantastic for the Heat’s fast-break offense.

In short, if Griffin can stay healthy enough and shed some of the unjustified criticism he has dealt with, he can elevate the Heat and maybe improve individually as well.

However, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported, despite the Heat’s interest in Griffin, they won’t throw every penny they have at him and forget about their depth in the process:

And even though the Heat likely would embrace Griffin if he surprisingly wants to leave the Clippers for a much lesser financial deal with Miami, there are some inside the Heat who see the merits of instead signing Waiters, Johnson and another player for the same $30 plus million it would cost to sign Griffin, who has missed 15, 47 and 20 games the past three regular seasons.

There are still reasons to think Griffin will stay put and secure a bigger max deal in L.A. as the worry of more injuries approaching his 30s lingers. Miami isn’t the most likely destination, but similarly to Boston, he can find a great situation, good coaching and an appealing technical fit with the Heat. If Hayward stays in Utah or heads to Boston, Griffin could enter a new horizon of possibility and potential.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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