Do you feel that NBA trade season spirit? SB Nation does. Today, all 30 NBA blogs are joining together for some collective trade season caroling and comment section egg nog. With December 15th behind us, each NBA team is no longer restricted from trading their newly acquired free agents, a signal that trade season has officially begun. Will the Detroit Pistons be active before the February trade deadline? If so, whom might they move-- and for what return? Let's take a look at how the Detroit Pistons should approach the trade market this season.
Detroit Pistons Trade Needs
All signs point to the Detroit Pistons' first playoff berth in five years. What's more, they're fresh off a win against the Eastern Conference's best team, a possible first round match-up. Despite the team's well-pronounced struggles, despite a lack of defensive cohesion and a poorly-prioritized offense, they're showing genuine promise. This team could change nothing and make their way into the first round, possibly stealing a game or two against the leaders of the conference.
While the Pistons could certainly stand pat, they have assets they should move and players they need to move should the opportunity arise. They should not look at this trade season as a way to complete the team, but an opportunity to begin building assets for a few bold moves to build around Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the years ahead.
This distinction cannot be overwrought. It is going to take several years of experience until this team is fully ready to compete with Andre Drummond as its star. He's shown remarkable promise, and is already one of the most effective players in the league. However, it will take several years before Drummond can shoulder a title competitor, so every move the Pistons make today should not be executed for immediate returns, but for a pay-off around the rise of its youngest big man.
To build this Drummond Contender (tm), Detroit needs to acquire picks, prospects and future trade value that can be packaged and rolled up into greater value in the future. A few years ago, before the Houston Rockets had two superstars, they did precisely the same. It's time for Detroit to begin making moves in a similar context of contending around Andre Drummond. The moves in the mean time may not seem sexy, but the urge for sexy moves today could cost Detroit in the future.
Actively Selling: Rodney Stuckey
This season, the red-hot Rodney Stuckey is Detroit's best trade asset. He scoring efficiently, he's getting to the line and he's playing very well on an expiring contract. That's a very attractive value for teams that are approaching the playoffs and need an offensive spark without the commitment. For Detroit, it's an opportunity to acquire picks and prospects for their own execution or for future trades. Other players might bring back more value to Detroit, but with Stuckey, they're not giving up anything they're not likely to lose this summer in free agency.
The problem is that Rodney Stuckey has been a key element in Detroit's rise this season. The bigger problem is that Detroit's success should not depend on a player who is about to test unfettered free agency for the first time in his career. Detroit could try to find value for Stuckey now, or they could watch him walk this summer.
Funny enough, an even worse alternative would be if Detroit kept Stuckey beyond the trade deadline and then chose to extend him this summer. Remember the context of the Drummond Contender (tm)? There will be other, younger, more-promising and better-fitting options available in free agency this summer (ahem, Jordan Hamilton). If Detroit trades Stuckey this season, they can potentially have a pick and a prospect to show for it, and they can spend some money in free agency on a promising young player that is flying under the radar.
Suggested Trade Target:
Detroit sends Rodney Stuckey to Denver for Andre Miller, Jordan Hamilton and Portland's 2nd round pick.
Denver is over the cap and will not likely be able to match an offer sheet for Jordan Hamilton without potential tax considerations. Detroit should be interested in Hamilton, and acquiring his bird rights earlier would be a boon for free agency. Denver receives an immediate upgrade in its backcourt to either start next to Lawson or fill out a three guard rotation on-the-ball. Denver is in the playoff hunt, and with a few lower-level trades, they could be a surprise for a second round appearance.
On the Trade Block: Josh Smith
It's very unlikely that Joe Dumars would try to trade Josh Smith so soon, but it would be in the team's best interests to make him available and even make a phone call or two with offers to other teams. The problems Josh Smith brings to Detroit are well-established, in part due to his positional responsibilities at small forward. However, a slide to power forward isn't a solution. Smith was a net loss player at power forward in Altanta last season, and in the context of The Drummond Contender (tm), a 31-year-old Smith will be a fraction of the player a 26-year-old Greg Monroe will be at the start of Drummond's prime. Even today, Greg Monroe has been a better power forward this year than Josh Smith was last year in Atlanta.
If Smith continues to play like he has over the last two games, there actually might be a real trade market for him elsewhere. There are a handful of teams with plenty of 2014 cap space that will not be able to find serviceable power forwards on the market. The Lakers and the Mavericks (who are likely to keep Dirk, but you never know) are not going to be attractive free agent destinations this summer due to team trajectory. Moving that cap space now for a better power forward than they can find this summer might be a real option. However, if Smith's solid streak continues, you can expect Dumars to hold on to him tightly.
Suggested Trade Targets:
For Detroit, it's an obvious undo of the Smith signing. It opens the flexibility to sign additional players or absorb larger contracts by trade, and it also allows for a more balanced shot distribution in its starting lineup and a proper small forward in Smith's place (Singler). Yes, Detroit could technically carry Smith's contract and still sign another player before extending Monroe, but Detroit doesn't need to rely on cap exceptions as it attempts to build The Drummond Contender (tm) when Smith is over 30. Flexibility and financial solvency are the fuel that will keep the motor running toward a deep playoff run in the future.
Why would Charlotte consider this trade? There is not a better pairing for Josh Smith than Al Jefferson. Those two were made for eachother up front, as Jefferson's scoring touch and rebounding match perfectly with Josh's defensive effort and energy in the post. Charlotte is not likely to be a player in free agency this summer due to its market size and uncertain trajectory. This would be an opportunity to move junk (the Gordon contract) to bring back a player at a key position that is better than anyone they could sign this summer.
Yes, the Bobcats have Cody Zeller, but Zeller has only struggled in a Bobcats uniform and they may opt to bring him along slowly while fielding a solid lineup in the mean time. The 'Cats are also rumored to be interested in trading Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, so this may be an opportunity to pair some assets to try to pull back more value.
Thompson is on a long-term deal like Smith, but at a range Detroit can afford given the role he will play. Outlaw and Fredette are shooters Sacramento isn't in need of, but might find a bit of value in Detroit. For Sacramento, a Gay/Smith/Cousins frontcourt offers more of a balanced set of skills than Detroit's current trio. However, would they worry about how this team will share the ball? Probably.
Price out of Reach: Greg Monroe
No player after Drummond is untouchable, but Greg Monroe should be as close to untouchable as a player can get. This community has been flooded with trade proposals for Greg Monroe and it'll likely get worse before an extension is signed. Nearly all of them have a universal problem-- they ship out Greg Monroe, whose rights are likely to last another four-and-a-half seasons, for players who will be free agents in two seasons. Remember that Drummond Contender (tm)? In that context, so many of these trade ideas fail by giving up long-term value for short-term immediate payoff before Dre is at his best.
There's the other line-of-thinking that Monroe should be moved to make room for Smith at power forward. Again, Greg is a more productive power forward this season than Josh Smith was last year in Atlanta. Also, when Smith is 31 and Dre is on the first year of his extension, Monroe will be 26 and in his prime. Furthermore, Smith's damaging brand of offense would be even more problematic next to a guy who isn't built to create his own shot in Andre Drummond. Title contenders have a common trait-- a balanced, efficient and productive two-way frontcourt. Look at the numbers on Smith's offense. Imagine Drummond being featured with the ball in his hands on offense. So much would have to change, and dramatically so, for that pairing to work.
Detroit can certainly listen to serious trade offers from other teams. But unless competitors are offering genuine all stars and several picks, there's no reason for Detroit to listen. The wise move would be to extend Greg, keep him as a long-term fixture next to Drummond, and as the team approaches The Drummond Contender (tm) years, there's no reason Detroit can't look to move Monroe if a winning deal presents itself. As it stands now, Monroe isn't part of the problem, and trading him isn't a solution.
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Your turn, Pistons fans. What players are you selling in this trade season? Which available players would you love to see in Detroit?