Tomase: Blake Griffin is a great player, but he's not worth risk if you're Danny Ainge and Celtics

John Tomase
June 15, 2017 - 2:01 am

Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports

Outfitting Blake Griffin in Celtics green would be a hell of a lot of fun.

But I fear it would be an even bigger mistake.

There's no guarantee blossoming All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward will leave Utah to sign here. We've already laid out the underwhelming choices for Plan B. The most logical is probably Griffin, the high-flying Clippers forward who was linked to the C's on Wednesday by the incomparable Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical in a podcast.

"Boston is really the danger for Blake Griffin," he said, noting that the five-time All-Star forward was impressed by the sendoff Celtics fans gave Clippers teammate Paul Pierce in his last game at the Garden this winter.

Hayward makes all the sense in the world. Griffin, despite his impressive skills, terrifies me. He has a chance to flame out spectacularly.

And spectacular is the operative word here. The power forward is a human highlight reel in the style of Dominique Wilkins. A legendary dunker at Oklahoma, Griffin scored the first points of his NBA career on an alley-oop and didn't stop flying for about five years.

Though he can still soar when needed, Griffin now plays a decidedly more earthbound game, morphing from monster dunker to methodical mid-range scorer. He remains an elite performer after averaging 21.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while extending to 3-point range in the style of Celtics center Al Horford, but anyone who says they'd rather have Griffin than Hayward at this point in their respective careers hasn't been paying attention.

Hayward is on the ascent. He can score at all three levels and has emerged as a legit defender. Utah's deliberate offensive system (the Jazz ranked last in pace) depressed the 27-year-old's numbers but not his efficiency. Put him in a scheme like Boston's and those career-high 21.9 points a game might jump to 24. He's the perfect fit for Brad Stevens and the C's.

He's also a more dynamic scorer than Griffin, with the ability to shoot the 3-pointer at roughly a 40 percent clip while also pulling up or converting at the rim. The Celtics need a viable wing presence on offense more than a post one, and Griffin is a throwback post scorer, even with his improved 3-point range (.336) last year. At least some of his touches would be redundant, considering Horford's similar skills as a post passer.

Let's not quibble over Griffin's attributes, however. He's a clear upgrade both inside and on the boards where, last we saw the Celtics, they were being beaten like Turkish protesters.

Griffin's red flag is health. It's worth repeating just how much he has been hurt throughout his career.

He finished the playoffs on the sideline for the second straight season, swapping last year's quad injury against the Blazers with a bad toe that sidelined him against the Jazz. The Clippers lost both series.

Griffin missed 21 games this year, including 18 following knee surgery. The prior season was almost a complete washout, thanks to a fight with a member of the team's equipment staff that broke his hand and cost him 35 games.

He might be the NBA's Gronk. He underwent knee surgery in college, broke a kneecap that ended his rookie season before it even started after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009, missed five weeks in 2014 following a staph infection, tore a quad and broke his hand in 2015, and then finished this season with toe surgery. That's a lot of injuries.

He hasn't played more than 67 games in a season since 2014, and players generally don't get healthier as they age, especially ones who have taken flight as often as Griffin.

In a vacuum, a case could be made for Griffin over Hayward. The power forward remains only 28 -- he's actually a little younger than Celtics star Isaiah Thomas -- and his inside presence would give the Celtics a wrinkle they've lacked. Maybe some counterprogramming -- not to mention counterpunching -- could challenge the Cavaliers in the paint, since going mano-a-mano against them on the perimeter feels fruitless.

But if Griffin can't stay healthy or suffers an injury that robs him of his explosiveness, the C's would be on the hook for four years of a diminished talent. They would effectively be signing the basketball equivalent of a 30-year-old pitcher, and caveat emptor on those.

NBA owners who made their fortunes in stocks know the standard disclaimer about past performance and future results, but they don't always act like it.

Signing Griffin, I fear, would be rewarding past performance. The Celtics can't afford to miss on a max player. Griffin simply represents too big a risk.

Comments ()