Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap were big winners and got nine-figure contracts from the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.

Before we start, I want to commend the Clippers’ front office for somehow convincing Griffin to stay. I thought it’d be best for him to go elsewhere, but the amount of money he’s set to make over the next five years makes the pain of not playing alongside Chris Paul more bearable. Of the two, Griffin got the bigger contract, five-years worth $172 million. Millsap struck gold as well on a three-year agreement that nets him $90 million. Both of these moves were bold.

Griffin’s is the more intriguing of the two. His annual salary is $34.45 million, which is fine considering his age and production. At 28, Griffin will continue to play at a near All-Star level for the next couple of seasons. Last year, he averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists, which was one of the better all-around campaigns he’s had. Those numbers are almost identical to what Griffin did in 2015-16. The bottom line is that he’s going to produce when he’s on the court. However, a gigantic question mark lies in how often Griffin will be out there.

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After missing just four games over the course of his first four seasons, Griffin’s body has continued to fail him. He’s suited up 67, 35 and 61 games, respectively, over the last three years, and the most disheartening part is that he hasn’t been 100 percent in the postseason since 2015. The Clippers were at their best during those playoffs, and it’s also when the championship window began to shrink. After beating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, they relinquished a 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets. And it remains one of the most epic collapses ever. Los Angeles also squandered a scintillating playoff run from Griffin, who put up 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists while also shooting 51.1 percent from the field. It was a glimpse of what his prime could be. Unfortunately, it hasn’t come.

Nagging quad injuries got the better of Griffin in early 2016, and he had surgery to repair a partially torn quad which sidelined him for 45 games. On top of that, he landed a haymaker on the Clippers equipment manager that left him with a fractured hand. That required surgery as well.

Wait, I’m not done yet! In December of 2016, Griffin underwent another surgery, but this was a minor procedure on his right knee. Still, it’s not okay. He missed a chunk of games before making it back in time for the postseason. His luck then ran out. Griffin played three games against the Jazz, and that was it. The Clippers were up 2-1 in the series before the unfortunate event, and it’s not a coincidence they lost three of the next four. Griffin is an outstanding player. We know this. He’s a former All-Star who’s also one of the most versatile forwards the NBA has.

Griffin has done an exceptional job expanding his offense as time’s gone on, and that includes being more comfortable taking mid-range shots. During his early years, Griffin made a name for himself with highlight slams that symbolically ended the careers of Kendrick Perkins and Timofey Mozgov (among others). That exuberant bounce is what led to Lob City becoming a thing and adding the surgical precision of Chris Paul only elevated Griffin.

The only reason the contract is iffy is his injuries. But this debate is nothing new. Although it’s hard to bet on Griffin being healthy for 80 games, he’s done it three times before and played in all 66 during the lockout-shortened season. Some other guys with the “injury prone” label have only played one full season — if they’re lucky. Kyrie Irving is a prime example. He’s battled injuries all throughout his career. The most games he’s played is 75. He appeared in fewer than 60 three times already. Does this mean Kyrie isn’t a great player? No.  

Griffin’s spent the last couple of campaigns experimenting with new ways of scoring, and also focusing on being a point-forward. The jumpers are slowly coming along, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Griffin added a couple of post moves just for good measure. However, with Paul gone, Griffin is the safest bet to control the offense.

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Part of this is skill-based. The other part is that his 4.9 assists were second on the team last year. I’ll go as far to say that Griffin’s vision and passing are transcendent. I know, that statement is about as bold as the contract the Clippers gave him, but hear me out. Over the seven decades that the NBA’s been around, only three guys 6-10 or taller have averaged more than four assists for their career: Wilt Chamberlain (4.4), Bill Russell (4.3) and Blake Griffin (4.1). That’s incredible. It doesn’t mean that Griffin’s going to be an all-time great, but it does mean that he’s got a skill not many forwards have. 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him eclipse five a game this year if the Clippers get their offense together, and a Griffin-DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll would be a spectacle. It’s evident Los Angeles has all the confidence in their borderline superstar, and returning to the All-Star game is likely if Griffin stays on the court. (I think the worst part of this deal is how it’s structured. The Clippers are going to pay a 32-year-old Griffin $39 million. That’s a lot of guala.)

People don’t seem as skeptical of Paul Millsap’s contract that they do Griffin’s. Even though he’s older, there isn’t any history of significant injury and the 69 games that Millsap suited up for this year was just the second time he’s ever played fewer than 70. And he’s been in the league since 2007. Much like Griffin, Millsap is a do-it-all forward who acted as the Atlanta Hawks’ centerpiece for most of his career. Even when the Al Horford-Jeff Teague-Millsap trio was at its peak, Millsap was still just a touch better.

He doesn’t score as well as Griffin, but he rebounds at a similar rate and is a much better defender. The playmaking is also there, and Millsap averaged a career-best 3.7 dimes this past season. Additionally, Millsap’s 18.1 points a night were also a career-high.

Atlanta can now focus entirely on their rebuild. The core that won 60 games in 2015 is no longer together, and Millsap was the last piece. In Denver, he’ll get to revitalize his career, and it’ll come with a squad that’s on the come up. The Nuggets came on strong last year thanks to Nikola Jokic, the 6-10 Serbian who took the league by storm with dazzling passes and equally impressive rebounding and scoring ability. Pairing the two is interesting. Jokic, despite playing point-forward (or center or whatever you want to call it) isn’t a perimeter player. He can’t shoot and made just 32.4 percent of his threes. Of course, this is subject to change.

However, the Nuggets need Jokic out around the three-point line so he can survey the floor and do what he does best — pass. Millsap falls into this situation by being someone who can hang out on the block and not crowd the perimeter too much; imagine a less energetic Kenneth Faried who can score in bunches. Millsap won’t equal Faried’s rebounding (12.8 per 36 minutes), but he gives Denver a safety net on offense. The Nuggets already have an electrifying offense, but a majority of their points came from guards and small forwards. That’s not a bad thing in a swing-dominated league, but the playbook becomes even more open when you have someone who can operate in the low-post and either create for himself or dish to someone on the perimeter.

Much like Griffin, Millsap can extend his range but still isn’t a reliable three-point shooter. For the year, the four-time All-Star went 75-of-241 (31.1 percent) overall but was shockingly efficient from both corners. Only 41 of his triples came from the short porch, and he nailed 18 of them, which works out to a clip of 43.9 percent. On top of that, Millsap knocked home mid-range looks with splendid consistency and is a legitimate threat out of the pick-and-roll. How often the Nuggets go to that remains to be seen, but it’s still an option.

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As phenomenal as Denver was on offense, it didn’t translate to the other end of the floor. They were one of the worst teams on defense. At the end of the year, the Nuggets ranked 27th in points allowed per game (111.2) and 29th in efficiency. Millsap has spent most of his career being a lockdown and versatile defender, and it’s a step to forming a defensive identity in Denver.

As the Hawks have slowly stripped away their once 60-win team, Millsap’s numbers have slipped because he’s needed to dedicate more of himself to the offense. Last year, he averaged just 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks a night. In 2016, I thought he had a legitimate chance to win Defensive Player of the Year. He and Nerlens Noel were the only two players to average 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks a night, per Basketball Reference. Additionally, he was fourth with a defensive rating of 96.1, third in defensive box plus/minus with a plus-4.2 and led the league in defensive win shares with 6.0.

He may not be as versatile as a Draymond Green, but Millsap has no issues guarding bigs and is serviceable when switching out onto guards. The only problem is his age. He’s 32, and we don’t know how many more years of defense the Nuggets will get out of him before he starts to crumble. What’s good is that they’ll get at least one and maybe two, and that should be enough time to find another couple of pieces to aid on that end.

Millsap’s age is also what makes this contract a little iffy. He’ll make $28.5 million this upcoming year and has an average salary of $30 million. Denver must’ve liked what they’ve seen.

However, it could’ve been much, much worse. The deal the Nuggets gave Millsap isn’t terribly long or terribly voluminous. Yes, he’s getting a nine-figure payday, but he’s nowhere near the max that he could’ve earned with his 11 years of service. Moreover, Denver’s not going to strain Millsap by making him the first option. They have exceptional youth around him, and not much would change even if they were to deal some of them for another star.

With Griffin, we can’t say the same. The Clippers got a hefty return for Chris Paul, but that package doesn’t equal what Paul did for Los Angeles. On top of that, DeAndre Jordan’s production is going to take a hit because of Paul’s departure.

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If the Clippers make the playoffs as a middle seed, I’d be shocked. Not only have they taken a hit, but Griffin may be out to start the season because of surgery on his right foot. The Nuggets, on the other hand, barely missed the playoffs last year. If everything clicks, the West is going to be a bloodbath, and it’s very likely the Nuggets beat the Clippers for a lower seed.

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