The depth-eroded Boston Celtics finally dipped their toes in the lukewarm free-agent market on Friday, signing 33-year-old Blake Griffin to a one-year, veteran-minimum deal.
Our minds immediately raced to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals when the Nets tossed Griffin into the playoff fire. While he gave them an immediate offensive jolt, Jaylen Brown essentially targeted Griffin in isolation on multiple fourth-quarter possessions as the Celtics moved a step closer to a four-game sweep.
Griffin isn’t a turnstile but he’s simply an aging big who’s lost some of his athleticism. Maybe that doesn’t matter to size-deprived Boston, who didn’t have many viable options to eat minutes at the 4/5 positions with Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams III sidelined after recent surgeries.
If we’re going to accentuate the positives, Griffin is a willing ball mover who routinely ranks among the best in assist percentage among big men. He had the best ball security season of his career last year with a career-low turnover percentage (no small thing to a Celtics team that pretty much fumbled away Banner 18). He’ll be a willing screener who can help Boston’s stars generate space. Griffin will also compete with Marcus Smart and Derrick White to pile up charge takes.
The negatives: He’s a career 32.7 percent 3-point shooter who shot 26.2 percent last year. The guy who once made dunking over a Kia look easy had 13 dunks in 958 minutes last season. The Celtics have to hope his offensive numbers bounce back a bit last year and were more a reflection of Brooklyn’s dysfunction.
If the Celtics were simply looking to fill the Gallinari void then Griffin could be fine in limited minutes. He’s a solid teammate who is aware of his role at this stage of his career. Two years ago, he was playing 26.5 minutes per game in the playoffs for the Nets and the Celtics shouldn’t need to lean on him anywhere near that much if healthy.
In order for the league to cover most of the cost of Griffin’s deal, the Celtics will have to carry him for the entirety of the season (while waiving him would have tax implications, he could be traded).
We’ll take Griffin’s addition as a sign that the team isn’t blown away by what it’s seen from the gaggle of camp invitees. Boston now has 12 guaranteed contracts on their books and one partial guarantee in Luke Kornet. There are still up to two spots available for camp invitees.
Gallinari could miss the entire season while Williams III will be sidelined 8-12 weeks after a cleanup procedure on his knee. The Celtics’ big man depth chart entering the season is topped by Al Horford with Grant Williams, Luke Kornet, and Mfiondu Kabengele as depth.
Both Jayson Tatum and Brown have noted they’d be willing to log minutes at the 4 in small-ball lineups if the Celtics wanted to play small to start the year.