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Blake Griffin for Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr.: Who Says No?

Detroit needs a new start; Dallas needs to start building around Luka Doncic. Let’s make a deal.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Trade season is here, which means it’s time to litter the internet with fake deals. For our “Who Says No?” series, Ringer staffers will pass along their best trade ideas, along with explanations as to why the agreements make too much sense to pass up. Got it? OK, who says no to …

After dropping 37 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists on the New Orleans Pelicans in a road win Wednesday, Blake Griffin treated his postgame interview like any curmudgeonly veteran on a 21-26 team should.

“It’s nothing to be proud of,” Griffin said. “It’s just masking our issues. We’ve got to lock in and finish games. Our focus at the end of games has been awful. That’s why we lose games like this.”

Still visibly upset, Griffin continued the interview before Reggie Jackson came bursting into frame, failing to read the room. As Jackson jokingly posed and postured in front of the camera, all that was missing was a record scratch, a freeze frame, “Teenage Wasteland” rolling in the background, and Griffin narrating, “Yup, that’s me. I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation.”

Acquiring Griffin at last year’s trade deadline was supposed to be a quick fix for a floundering franchise, a last-ditch effort by Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower to propel the Pistons into the playoffs and put butts in the seats of a brand-new arena. It didn’t work. It’s still not working.

Detroit is only 1.5 games out of eighth place, but five games under .500 and dead last in home attendance percentage. Andre Drummond is the best player you never really want to watch. Reggie Jackson is somehow on Year 8 of making the exact same mistakes. The play of Ish Smith, in all seriousness, was one of the only redeeming parts of watching Detroit … and then he got hurt.

New coach Dwane Casey deserves time to work things out, but Griffin understandably shouldn’t be patient. He turns 30 in two months, and in no way is Detroit close to competing. His only above-replacement-level teammate is Drummond, and he can decline his player option in the summer of 2020 and bolt for another team. The previous regime has bungled the draft badly enough that there may not be a single player on the roster under the age of 25 who can become a legitimate starter.

The Pistons badly need a reboot. They can be young and fun (and bad) like the Atlanta Hawks and at least give their fan base some potential to dream on. At this stage in his career, Griffin’s nightly gems are being wasted in basketball purgatory.

Is there a team willing to rescue him and take on the double whammy of a long-term contract and an even longer injury history?

The Dallas Mavericks are also not very good, but in a different way than Detroit. Dallas has its foundational piece in Luka Doncic, but he’s currently surrounded almost solely by players using Kobe Bryant’s Xbox controller. Ask someone who the second-best Mavericks player is, and you might get four or five different answers, and one of them might be J.J. Barea, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Spending big and maximizing your roster while you have a star on a rookie-scale contract is what we’ve seen NFL teams do with young quarterbacks, but NBA teams haven’t been as successful with the strategy. The New Orleans Pelicans tried to surround Anthony Davis with big-name acquisitions, but Jrue Holiday was the only one that stuck. The Mavs have a long and rich history of preserving cap space and subsequently striking out in free agency, but that probably won’t stop Mark Cuban from chasing the big fish in this year’s pool.

And while that’s fine, the Mavericks really can’t afford to miss again in free agency and run it back next year with a revolving door of veterans. Acquiring someone like Griffin is risky, but this is the time to take chances. Excluding Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell’s player options, the only guaranteed money on the books next year all comes from rookie deals. Even with acquiring Griffin, the Mavericks would still have room to add meaningful free agents and might be an easier sell as a team ready to compete immediately.

Everything for Dallas has to be looked at through the Luka lens. Guys that don’t complement his skill set should be quickly discarded, and, while Dallas has a number of those players, Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. are probably 1A and 1B on that list. Barnes has been a black hole offensively; only two players (P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington) have averaged more minutes per game this season and put up a lower assist percentage. Smith Jr. has not adapted well to playing more off the ball, and it doesn’t help that no one else on the team can dribble. Doncic has been great at making difficult shots, especially in the clutch, but it’s not wholly sustainable on a game-to-game basis. He needs someone else to help bend the defense.

Griffin has been that guy for Detroit this season, averaging career highs in points per game (26.3), made 3s per game (2.4), and true shooting percentage (59.7 percent). He’s knocking down pull-up 3s, pushing in transition, getting to the rim, and drawing fouls while functioning as Detroit’s primary initiator with ease.

The idea of pairing two elite playmakers with this much size and skill has to be intriguing for Dallas, and would serve as a natural remedy to teams that become overly anxious to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands with aggressive pick-and-roll defense. Griffin’s impact on the rest of the roster would be felt, particularly with his old Clippers teammate DeAndre Jordan (reunion!), who has spent most of his first season in Dallas looking … kind of sad? Griffin’s lobs used to serve as a sort of pick-me-up for Jordan, and while Dallas is probably a long shot for the postseason in the crowded Western Conference (4.5 games back), injecting some well-worn chemistry via Griffin and Jordan could theoretically help the Mavericks make a run.

Let’s be clear about one thing: While this trade could help Dallas this season, it would turn Detroit’s on-court product to absolute mush. The financials would have to be Detroit’s primary motivation, and ownership would have to be willing to wave a white flag on the current roster. By sending Griffin to Dallas in exchange for Barnes and Smith Jr., the Pistons would skip out on the $109 million owed to Griffin over the next three seasons and potentially clear the decks of anything outside of rookie-scale deals after next season.

Barnes has a player option worth $25 million next season that he will likely accept, but he could have value as an expiring contract and would likely come off the books at the same time as Drummond, so long as the 7-footer declined his player option worth $28.7 million for the 2020-21 season. This would be a full embrace of the tank for Detroit, and would require some additional flipping of contracts to fully make it worthwhile.

The real prize here for Detroit is a former top-10 pick in Smith, who can push Jackson all the way out of the picture. The second-year guard has flashed improved shooting and defense along with some ridiculous athleticism, even if the turnovers and relationship with Doncic throw up some red flags. After surrendering a late lottery pick to get Griffin last year, Detroit recouping with a cheap, controllable, high-upside prospect at a major position of need is no small thing.

Selling high on Griffin would help the Pistons avoid the potential of being saddled with an expensive, older star on an albatross contract playing for a team that might not be able to crack the postseason when most of the teams in the conference aren’t even trying that hard to do so. It’s tough to imagine Griffin playing much better than he currently is, but as the Clippers found out, there’s no telling when an injury can abruptly end a hot streak. Detroit is going to be hard-pressed to put together a competitive roster in the next 14 months, which could be Drummond’s timeline with the team. Cap space historically hasn’t been good to the Pistons (shout-out to Mr. Two Phones, Joe Dumars), but a completely blank slate might be preferable to barely treading water and drafting in the late lottery every year.

Dallas shouldn’t be satisfied watching Doncic prop up mediocre talent for the next few years. Time with your young ones is precious. Surround your prodigy with high-IQ players who can do more than one thing, get Rick Carlisle and all his wizardry to another playoff series sooner rather than later, and do something with your cap space that isn’t Plan C (which is pay whichever center is available all the money).

Let’s do this, Dallas and Detroit. Free Blake Griffin.