Feathery mid-range jumpers floating from LaMarcus Aldridge’s hands were common during the Barclays Center’s opening months last year. Putting little arc on his release while hitting with pinpoint accuracy, LMA’s shots moved toward the net like heat-seeking missiles ... just a bit slower
However, a cease fire came about during the 2021-22 season’s latter half.
Those shots which were once on display nightly were only visible during pregame warmups. A few health related issues, particularly a troublesome hip that had bothered him early in his career, along with his inability to switch on defense eventually made Aldridge less than playable in Steve Nash’s eyes. Nic Claxton who had had his own durability issues early in the season, replaced him, the Nets trading Aldridge’s reliable offense for Claxton’s D and athleticism.
Aldridge was not the only big name on Brooklyn’s roster to make the unfortunate transition from rotation player to bench warmer.
Being a hard-nosed, first-to-the-floor player, Blake Griffin used to end his nights covered with bumps, bruises, and skid marks up and down his jersey. Taking charges and diving full extension for loose balls will do that for you.
But as the 2021-22 season rolled along, Griffin began returning his uniform clean. His run-ins with the hardwood were few and far between. He traded in his hard hat and steel toed boots for warm up gear, not playing at all in 14 of Brooklyn’s final 20 games last year.
So with Griffin and Aldridge sitting side by side at the end of the bench to end last season, it stands to reason that they’ll both seek new playing opportunities this summer, assuming one or the other still thinks he can contribute. Although both players remain unsigned at this point even with free agency’s floodgates now open for nearly a month, neither player nor the Nets have shown any intent to “run it back.”
Indeed, there’s been little news stirring around as summer peaks and locker rooms fill up. There are fewer than 20 roster spots still open around the league not counting two-ways and camp invites, but no real word on where the two former All-Stars —13 selections between them — could next draw a paycheck.
For the 37-year-old Aldridge, retirement does seem like one path he might. It’s one he’s traveled before. After experiencing some heart-related issues in April 2021, LMA hung it up only to return a few months later with a clean bill of health.
However, Aldridge does seem interested in still playing competitively, if not for the NBA, than overseas. A few weeks after the Boston Celtics bounced the Nets from the playoffs, Aldridge hinted at this idea on Twitter.
When former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina posted a few pictures while at practice coaching his current team in the Italian League, Aldridge commented, “Let me know if you need a shooting big.”
With Alridge and Messina familiar with each other from their days in San Antonio, Aldridge’s comment have just been a simple joke between friends. But at the same time, no NBA front office seems interested in him right now although there was a rumor last week that he might be nice pick-up for the Heat.
This past season, Aldridge averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game. He also posted a solid .550/.304/.873 shooting splits.
His aforementioned slow feet at the defensive end will hurt him no matter what league he plays in, but at the end of the day, Aldridge is a sure fire Hall of Famer. Any team outside the NBA would be blessed to acquire him and that ageless jump shot.
Aldridge’s return last season did afford him the opportunity to join an exclusive NBA club. At the end of October, he scored his 20,000th point becoming the 48th player to do so. If you want a milestone before your exit, joining that elite group might be a nice one.
As for Griffin, there’s more evidence of a pending departure from Brooklyn, if not a potential landing spot. We know Griffin did not appreciate being a benchwarmer to close Brooklyn’s season last year from the most credible source around—Griffin himself.
In typical Blake Griffin fashion, the high flyer made his feelings about his limited minutes known with a joke. A few weeks ago, he joined former Net Bruce Brown’s Instagram Live and said that he had “been doing offseason workouts since March.”
For those unable to connect the dots, Brooklyn’s season ended officially in late April. While he supplied a needed spark in Game 3 of the Celtics series, scoring eight points in rapid succession, more than one NBA analyst noted that he looked gassed. And in Game 4, he played 18 minutes but didn’t score.
While chatting with Marc Stein earlier this summer, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report took an educated guess at where Griffin could wind up.
“It sounds like he’s gonna go to Los Angeles,” said Fischer. “The Clippers would be pretty weird, funny, silly outcome with the whole exit there. So I mean, the Lakers would make more sense in that regard. But I honestly I can’t tell you which one seems more likely.”
Fischer is not the only one who has reason to believe Griffin will don the purple and gold next season, or even a few other colors.
“There will be a number of teams that look at him,” one Eastern Conference executive told Sean Deveney of Heavy.com. “Chicago, Miami, the Lakers, maybe even Boston. They’d be in the mix, at least.”
So far, though, nothing.
Although signing Griffin will not dismiss the notion that the Lakers are a retirement home for aging, ring-chasing stars at this point, it could be well-fitting spot for him to land. As for the Clippers, early in the off-season, Griffin liked a tweet that suggested his closing act be with the team that drafted him.
Miami, Chicago, and Boston also make sense as teams likely to contend during the upcoming season. For as long as humans need oxygen, championship-driven teams will need veterans willing to give up money for a chance to win a title. Griffin and those teams play into that equation perfectly.
No matter where they land, assuming they do, Aldridge and Griffin seem destined to be role players. If he signed with the Heat, for example, Griffin feels destined to take up the role once held by P.J. Tucker. Very few power forwards specialize in hard-nosed, gritty defense at this point in their career, but Griffin with his physicality and ability to sacrifice his body is one. On the surface, is he a neatly sized puzzle piece to click right into that hole left behind by Tucker?
However, Tucker cannot just hand down the position to Griffin like an old t-shirt. Last year, Tucker started 70 games for Miami and averaged 27.9 minutes per game. Both those figures seem like too much to ask of Griffin who last reached those marks during his 2018-19 campaign.
Tucker also resembles one of the game’s most lethal corner 3-point shooters. He shot 43.1 percent from the corner last season—the third best by anyone with over 170 attempts. Meanwhile, Griffin shot just 25.6 percent from the corner and only 26.2 percent from three as a whole.
Griffin might work well as an energy guy off the bench like he once did with Brooklyn, but he is a fool’s gold replacement for Tucker.
The Chicago Bulls feel like the best culture fit for Griffin. A deal locking him in with Chicago also locks him in beside Alex Caruso, pairing two of the only three players to average one drawn charge per game last year.
The DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine tandem makes Chicago a safe bet to make the playoffs once again next year, meeting Griffin’s wishes as an aging player looking for a ring.
The Bulls also look thin at power forward right now. Other than Nikola Vucevic and the unproven but potential-packed Patrick Williams, you can’t find other players on that roster who match Griffin’s resume’. Griffin plugs up that hole and his energy could help out this Chicago team that struggled on the glass last year.
However, it was a full rotation of switching, 3-point shooting players (with exception to Robert Williams) that got Boston to the NBA Finals last season. Although Griffin’s shot may have looked crisp in those contests vs Boston, he no longer resembles a consistent threat from deep. Adding him to the Celtics rotation would be like tossing a wrench into a Ferrari engine.
So, that brings us back to Los Angeles. A number of things caused fans to boo everytime the Lake Show came on last season, but the team’s poor defense proved most detrimental.
With his hustle, Griffin at the very least provides some juice at the defensive end for a team that desperately needs it. A role offering him a few minutes each night down on the block to help out the aging LeBron James and injury prone Anthony Davis feels like a solid deal for both parties.
Griffin undoubtedly has more pep in his step than Dwight Howard, who played a backup role down low last season, and carries more talent as a playmaker. The upgrade is there, even if it’s a minimal one.
LA’s other team does have a better selling point though, being expected title contenders with Kawhi Leonard set to return to a roster riddled with talented role players. Griffin also reportedly liked a tweet about coming back to the Clippers two days after Brooklyn’s season ended.
The Clippers will likely only offer Griffin minutes during garbage time, there’s some baggage still in LAX for him as well. If the Clippers extend a deal his way, it will all come down to how much Griffin favors a title chance in comparison to minutes and culture. At 33 years old, it might be the last time he gets to make the right call.