- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Sitting a player involved in trade talks is common enough, especially when a deal is near. Teams don’t want an injury to jeopardize an agreement. No one blinks an eye when a baseball manager suddenly pulls the starter who just got dealt by the general manager.  

But the NBA is taking the idea of bubble-wrapping healthy players to a different level. 

More than a month before the league’s trade deadline and with no potential trade partners in sight, the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers have each made the decision to bench a star while he’s being shopped.

Detroit announced Monday that disgruntled forward Blake Griffin would sit while the team tries to find the six-time All-Star a new home. Cleveland did the same for center Andre Drummond, a two-time All-Star who had started the team’s previous 25 games.

The choices to move on from Griffin and Drummond aren’t terribly surprising. Detroit and Cleveland are rebuilding, and both have consistently popped up in trade rumors.

But the timing — it’s still a young season, after all — is unusual, to say the least. Critics say the decision can be seen as a cynical sign that the two franchises are already waving a white flag. Despite that, what’s happening with Griffin and Drummond represents a shift in how teams handle unhappy players.

“At some level, I assume you just want to move forward,” Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas said before Monday’s loss to the Wizards. “It’s not fair for the guy who is kind of in the trade talks to either just sit there and expect to be playing or not playing the role they want to play in the team. There’s so much to it. If you separate it and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ I think it kind of helps everybody kind of move forward. 

“It helps the player. It helps eliminate some of the frustration that the player would have. It allows the team to move forward with what they’re going to do for the future and play guys without really thinking about … a guy who isn’t in your future.” 

Silas knows what it’s like to deal with a player who wants out. The first-year head coach dealt with a similar situation with star James Harden before Houston shipped the former MVP to Brooklyn last month. 

The dynamic became increasingly uncomfortable as the situation dragged on. After Harden showed up to training camp late and seemingly out of shape, the Rockets and Harden tried to co-exist while the rumors churned. Teammates grew tired of answering questions about Harden, and the superstar’s statistics were down across the boards.

While the Rockets didn’t use the Pistons’ and Cavaliers’ approach, Houston seemed to consider it. On Jan. 13, ESPN reported that the Rockets planned to keep Harden away from the team “until they can complete a trade involving the unhappy star.” 

Houston’s plan was in response to Harden torching the team in a press conference during which he told reporters the Rockets just weren’t “good enough,” and he didn’t think the situation could be fixed. 

A day after ESPN’s report, Harden was traded to the Nets. 

Neither Detroit nor Cleveland is likely to find willing trade partners quickly. Both stars are earning huge salaries — Griffin makes $36 million, while Drummond makes $28 million — so the contracts will be difficult to unload. 

Griffin and Drummond could end up purchasing a buyout — a deal where the player agrees to give back some money in order to be waived. 

Detroit general manager Troy Weaver told ESPN the team’s decision was reached in agreement with Griffin’s representatives — suggesting the player was on board with the move. 

But not everyone in the NBA approves. In a three-minute rant after his team’s win over Cleveland on Monday, Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green brought up unprompted what he perceived to be a double standard in how teams handle trade rumors versus the players who want out. 

“To watch Andre Drummond, before the game, sit on the sidelines, then go to the back, and to come out in street clothes because a team is going to trade him, it’s [expletive],” Green said. “Because when James Harden asked for a trade, and essentially dogged it, … he was castrated for wanting to go to a different team. Everybody destroyed that man. And yet a team can come out and say, ‘Oh, we want to trade a guy,’ and then that guy has to go sit, and if he doesn’t stay professional, then he’s a cancer. 

“And he’s not good in someone’s locker room, and he’s the issue.”

Drummond has not spoken publicly about his benching. On Sunday, when the center was a healthy scratch against the Los Angeles Clippers, Drummond walked out of the arena wearing a hoodie that had one word patterned in cursive on the front: “Farewell.”

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