From now until the 2012 NBA trade deadline, we'll explore the trade rumors and potential pairings between the Pistons and the 29 other teams in the league. To start, we'll visit three teams in the Atlantic division: the Philadelphia 76ers, the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics. Each of these current playoff teams have varying degrees of need while approaching the post-season, so let's explore how Detroit could engage them on the trade market.
Philadelphia 76ers | Atlantic Division | 20 - 14 Record
The Sixers are having a surprising season with excellent play on both ends of the court. They're the top-ranked defender in the league, holding opponents to 87.5 points per game. They're a slow-paced throwback to the old style of basketball that the Pistons are familiar with, getting solid contributions from all five players in their starting lineup.
Trade Status: Philadelphia has accomplished a lot without making moves since last season. Philly GM Rod Thorn is likely to stand pat unless a significant offer crosses his desk-- something similar to the 2004 trade of Rasheed Wallace that put Detroit over the top. If Philly can stay healthy in the post-season, they could challenge for the Eastern Conference title without making changes of significance before the deadline.
Also note that since Philly is over the cap, deals would need to match up pretty closely. Thorn placed Marreese Speights on the block early this season, but would only move the center for picks, not players. A trade with Philadelphia will need to be financially sound, first and foremost.
Trade Likelihood: 2/10
Pistons - Sixers Trade Options: Detroit has little to nothing that Philly would want. They're stacked with guards and they've got a great veteran wing forward. If they need anything entering the post-season, it might be some insurance up front. With injuries to Hawes and Brand showing how weak the team's bench is after Vucevic, they might be looking for an energetic, rebounding / blocking big who can man both frontcourt positions. The only player that fits this option in Detroit is Jason Maxiell.
A trade of Jason Maxiell for Andres Nocioni works financially. Nocioni has barely played this season, and he'd be acquired by Detroit for salary relief. He has a $7.5M team option on his contract that Detroit could pass on, saving Detroit from the $5M player option on Maxiell's contract. Since Detroit is sending out a rotation player for an expiring inactive player, requesting a future second round pick wouldn't be out of the question.
Note that Philly can likely find better for Nocioni's expiring and a future second rounder. But if they're hurting for frontcourt hustle within a day or two of the deadline, it might not be out of the question. Maxiell's numbers don't leap off the page, but on a 36-minute average, Jason's numbers translate to 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in February. Vintage Maxiell.
New York Knicks | Atlantic Division | 17 - 18 Record
The Knicks have one of the most unfortunate salary profiles in the league. They've committed 86% of the current salary cap to three players (which grows to 93% of the cap next year if the limit does not change). The rest of their roster is full of veteran's minimum or rookie scale deals, meaning that trades will need to include a lot of small players even for a single MLE-level inbound player. It's nearly impossible to trade four players for one, given that maximum and minimum player requirements are written into the CBA. Pretty much the only way this team can trade for anything of significance is to move one of their "big three", something NYC is nearly certain not to do this season.
Trade Status: This doesn't mean the Knicks don't have needs. They're thin up front, and could use help from a cheap-yet-productive big man who can perform adequately on both ends of the court. But who doesn't need that?
Trade Likelihood: 1/10
Pistons - Knicks Trade Options: There's nothing the Knicks would be willing to trade that could interest Detroit. They have a mid-second rounder in the 2012 draft, but couldn't package it with anything the Pistons would be willing to acquire. If they offered Steve Novak and that second rounder for Ben Wallace, Detroit might pause for a second to think about it, but shipping Wallace for a second rounder would further anger the Basketball Gods. Between these two teams, there are no grounds for a deal.
Boston Celtics | Atlantic Division | 15 - 17 Record
It's more than possible, it's likely that Boston falls out of the 8th seed before the trade deadline. If that happens, the pressure on Danny Ainge to make a move will reach a fever pitch.
Trade Status: The player most likely to leave Boston by trade is either Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, both of which present a lot of cap savings. Garnett has $21.2M coming off the table, Allen has $10M even. This team needs a shooting guard to replace Allen and size up front, as only Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson and Greg Stiemsma are on contract beyond this season. They're not just losing Allen, they're losing Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox this summer. Given that there are so few center-capable unrestricted free agents in 2012, their best bet at bringing in help in the frontcourt is now.
Chances are, Boston will hold on to one of their two big expirings, and that'll likely be Kevin Garnett. The Celtics will need to make some moves in free agency, and that cap space will come in handy. Boston is probably more likely to offer up Ray Allen and possibly even Jermaine O'Neal.
There's a dark horse trade candidate as well, given that Rajon Rondo has been at odds with the front office (and the locker room) in Boston. For the right offer, don't be surprised if Boston cuts ties with the point guard.
Trade Likelihood: 7/10
Pistons - Celtics Trade Options: This is a fun one to think about because the options are numerous. If the Celtics are looking to replace Ray Allen with another off-the-ball three point threat, shooting guard options are slim in 2012 free agency. While the Celtics would not consider moving Allen for Ben Gordon alone, they'd certainly listen to the deal if it included rookie Brandon Knight. If given 16+ attempts per game, Gordon should approach the 45% shooting he's had in the past. He's already shooting 42% from three this season, and could fill the spot-up role that Boston needs. Brandon Knight could fill in 25 minutes off the bench at either guard position, also giving flexibility to Boston should they ultimately decide to trade Rondo. But would Detroit move Knight just to get out of Gordon's contract? No. Detroit should ask for Boston's mid first round pick from the upcoming draft. Knight alone is worth more than Boston's first rounder, which might make the Gordon/Allen part of the deal more tolerable to Boston's front office.
Then there's Rajon Rondo. If Detroit would be willing to part with its first round pick, a package of Knight, Gordon and that 2012 lottery pick should be enough to interest Boston on Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O'Neal and Boston's mid-range first rounder. Essentially, Detroit would only do this if the winning continues and the pick approaches double digits. Detroit would lose Knight, but gain a top 5 point guard. Boston would lose Rondo but gain a point guard prospect and a lottery pick. Detroit would lose a lottery pick, but would add a 15-18 pick while shedding Ben Gordon's salary for good.
Detroit would have an all star point guard, a 15-18 pick this summer, they'd be free of Ben Gordon's contract and the amnesty clause would take care of Charlie Villanueva. That's one hell of a reset button, and having a top 5 point guard and a top 5 center points toward one hell of a turnaround. If Boston is serious about rebuilding, they'd want to consider it, given that they'd acquire a point guard prospect, a lottery pick and a two year replacement for the expiring Ray Allen.
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I'll be continuing this three-at-a-time look at potential trade partners nearly every day until the trade deadline. If you can think of another trade we should explore with these three teams, share them in the comments! Discussions about other trade partners will be ready when each specific column hits. NOW YOUR THOUGHTS. MOAR TOMORROW.