Tony Jones on the NBA: As ugly as it went down, Clippers made right move trading Griffin

Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) is defended by Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden while going to the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

I, like many in the basketball world, was shocked when the Los Angeles Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons.

Not many knew Griffin even was available in a deal. He had just signed a mega-contract with the Clippers this past summer. He was elevated to being the franchise piece in the wake of Chris Paul leaving for the Houston Rockets. The 29-year-old is one of the most skilled big men in the NBA and the one Clipper I thought would remain a Clipper until retirement.

I initially was angry. Griffin’s trade is just another example of the harsh reality of the NBA, taking a guy who essentially committed to the franchise for life when he was a free agent six months ago and trading him to Detroit? That’s cold. Griffin could’ve gone anywhere this summer. He chose Los Angeles. He chose Doc Rivers. He chose Hollywood. And poof, just like that, it’s all gone.

I don’t ever want to hear another fan upset over what a player does in free agency, whether it’s Kevin Durant, LeBron James or anyone. Griffin’s trade is the ultimate example of franchise loyalty going only so far. Teams are going to do what’s best for the team as well they should. Players should do the same. If a player is lucky enough to accrue a bit of power and leverage in this league — it doesn’t happen all that often — he should use it.

That being said, through the surprise and shock, it’s clear the Clippers and new personnel boss Jerry West are doing the right thing.

Lob City had to go.

Looking at this objectively, can we come to any other conclusion? In truth, the Clippers as we’ve known them for the last half-decade disappeared the minute CP3 decided he no longer wanted to be involved

with the franchise. Los Angeles tried to pivot by acquiring Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley. They signed Milos Teodosic. They signed Danilo Gallinari.

But those moves have done nothing but bring mediocrity. They sit ninth in the Western Conference and making the postseason is hardly a given.

Lob City’s legacy ultimately will be one that was good but never good enough. The trio of Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Paul routinely won 50-plus games every season. They seemingly ruled the SportsCenter highlights every night while bringing excitement and interest to a franchise that had been in the doldrums for so long.

But they never were able to fight their way through the glass ceiling. They never made it past the second round of the playoffs and never posed a serious threat to win the West or an NBA title. And Paul eventually chose to do what was best for him with his career legacy on the line, going to Houston where the Rockets currently are the NBA’s second-best team.

I feel sorrow for Doc Rivers the coach because he was done in by Doc Rivers the general manager. For as much talent as Lob City possessed in its big three, each player came with flaws. Griffin, for all of his offensive wizardry, never was a good defender. Jordan is a great athlete, rebounder and defender, but he never could make free throws, which left the Clippers vulnerable to hack-a-Shaq strategies and forced Rivers to take him off the floor in key situations. Paul is not flawed on the floor, but his prickly personality and temper made chemistry dicey in the locker room.

Rivers the GM never was able to supplement Lob City with the needed supporting cast. The Clippers didn’t draft well and made trades that didn’t move the needle. They wasted valuable first-round picks in

trades that brought in people like Jeff Green. And the Golden State Warriors took advantage, drafting expertly, developing expertly and eventually becoming the juggernaut everyone thought the Clippers had a chance of becoming.

So while the Clippers showed poor form by trading Griffin, it was the right move. And West is as smart a personnel guy as there is in the league. Breaking it down and building it back up is the smart play. Gaining cap space is valuable, as is the first-round pick they took from the Pistons.

I’ll miss Lob City. It was a fun era that made watching the Clippers a cool thing to do. But it obviously was time to move on. Credit the Clippers for recognizing that and doing something about it.

NBA POWER RANKINGS <br>1. Golden State Warriors • Defense has slipped noticeably in the last two weeks. <br>2. Houston Rockets • Continue to look like the one team that can seriously challenge the Warriors in a series. <br>3. Boston Celtics • Have won four of five without the injured Marcus Smart. <br>4. Toronto Raptors • Scored 130 points in blow out of Portland. <br>5. San Antonio Spurs • Winning with this roster a true testament to Pop’s coaching genius. <br>6. Minnesota Timberwolves • Have hit a bit of a lull, but this is a very good team. <br>7. Cleveland Cavaliers • LeBron vehemently denies Golden State rumors. <br>8. Oklahoma City Thunder • Andre Roberson injury has devastating effect on OKC’s defense. <br>9. Washington Wizards • Despite good record, chemistry between John Wall and Bradley Beal is in question. <br>10. Portland Trail Blazers • C.J. McCollum drops 50 points in three quarters vs. Bulls. <br>11. Miami Heat • Goran Dragic gets well-deserved all-star nod. <br>12. Milwaukee Bucks • Jabari Parker scores 12 points in his debut. <br>13. New Orleans Pelicans • Trade for Nikola Mirotic should fortify frontcourt. <br>14. Indiana Pacers • Surrendered a whopping 49 points in first quarter of loss to the Hornets. <br>15. Denver Nuggets • Gary Harris hits game-winner in wild one over the Thunder. <br>16. Philadelphia 76ers • Will they make a move at the trade deadline? <br>17. Los Angeles Clippers • Blake Griffin trade a signal that the Clips are starting over. <br>18. Detroit Pistons • Blake Griffin leads Pistons to win in debut. <br>19. Utah Jazz • Have been great since Rudy Gobert’s return. <br>20. Charlotte Hornets • Kemba Walker drops 41 against the Pacers. <br>21. New York Knicks • Team sends Joakim Noah — and his huge contract — home. <br>22. Los Angeles Lakers • It’s no secret the Lakers have Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle on the trade block. <br>23. Brooklyn Nets • Jarrett Allen really improving as rookie season progresses. <br>24. Chicago Bulls • Can finally move on without Nikola Mirotic. <br>25. Memphis Grizzlies • Seeking a first-round pick in return for Tyreke Evans. <br>26. Phoenix Suns • Lost Isaiah Canaan for the season with gruesome leg injury. <br>27. Sacramento Kings • Turned in admirable performance against the Warriors before losing. <br>28. Dallas Mavericks • Former BYU star Kyle Collinsworth starting to play some minutes. <br>29. Orlando Magic • According to reports, they are gauging trade market for Aaron Gordon. <br>30. Atlanta Hawks • Taurean Prince is named as an injury replacement for Malcolm Brogdon in the Risings Stars game during All-Star weekend.