Such sentiments will undoubtedly hearten the Pistons owner Tom Gores, who authorized the high-priced gamble on Griffin that the former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had hoped would save his job. The combination of Griffin’s injury history and the Clippers’ lack of financial flexibility spawned the widespread perception that Los Angeles “won” the deal simply by virtue of shedding his mammoth contract.
The Pistons, by contrast, reasoned that they were unlikely to otherwise attract a player of Griffin’s caliber after just one playoff berth since 2009 and their scant reputation as a free-agent destination. But they also needed Griffin to find sustained health and return to something closer to his peak form of 2013-14, when he finished third in Most Valuable Player Award voting.
Despite establishing himself as a credible 3-point shooter last season, Griffin also sank to career lows in shooting percentage and player efficiency rating. But his early pace this season has him on a course for career bests through the lens of essentially any advanced metric you choose. He also committed only 16 turnovers in the first six games while hitting 15 of his first 23 attempts from 3-point range before missing all eight 3s he tried in back-to-back losses to the Boston Celtics.
Asked if he had finally reached the point of priding himself in his long-distance game over his legendary dunking, Griffin smiled and said: “If you need a momentum-builder, dunking on someone is always nice. But I’ll take 3 over 2 any day. And, obviously, that’s the way everything’s going now.”
As for the kind words that have been flowing since his first career 50-point outing, last week against the Philadelphia 76ers, Griffin said he was trying to downplay the hype but acknowledged they were a pleasant departure from “hearing a lot of negative comments for the last two, three years.”
Gores knows the feeling, after just one playoff berth in seven seasons of ownership. A native of Flint, Mich., who is based in Los Angeles as the founder of an investment firm, he hosted the Griffin brothers at his house in January on the night of the trade for a get-to-know-you summit and a few games of pool. In a phone conversation this week, Gores described himself as “a little boy from Flint” who, in adulthood, presides over a basketball franchise that is “not winning enough yet.”
“We all have an edge,” Gores said, referring to himself, Griffin and Casey, who was fired in Toronto in May despite a 59-win season that earned him separate N.B.A. coach of the year trophies last season from his peers and the news media. “We all have a lot to prove.”