Prior to the trade that sent out Ben Gordon this summer, it had been three dark, frustrating years since the Pistons front office had executed a trade. No draft picks were swapped, no expiring deals were shipped, no young prospects were brought in for a team so desperately in need of a fully-embraced youth movement. Despite the excuses, the reasons for the lack of trades were simple-- the Pistons had nothing of value that other teams wanted. Finally, things are starting to look different in Detroit, because behind the clearing smoke a bit of trade value is appearing. Could the Pistons be players prior to the 2013 trade deadline? Let's take a look.
Before examining Detroit's opportunities on the current market, a sense of history is pretty important. Beyond the tree year trade drought that ended this summer, it has been nearly seven years since Detroit has executed a winning trade. Prior to the costly Ben Gordon trade this summer, Detroit's last trade sent Arron Afflalo to Denver for the draft pick that would net Vernon Macklin in 2011. The team also traded Amir Johnson for Fabricio Oberto's expiring deal a few weeks beforehand. The Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson trade need not be mentioned, as that is one of the most memorable moments in franchise history. Even Nazr Mohammad for Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann was a net loss in retrospect. What's the common thread? Every player Detroit shipped out in these trades are getting rotation or better minutes in today's NBA. Every player Detroit received is no longer in the league.
What can Detroit learn from this? There's one more common thread here that needs to be seriously considered. Every one of these trades has been executed to improve Detroit's salary profile in order to facilitate opportunities in free agency. Fast forward, and the team is once again trying to undo its free agent acquisitions by trade... in order to once again improve its free agent flexibility.
This franchise needs a fundamental change in philosophy on the trade market. Trading is not a tool to help you make moves in free agency, it is an art in itself with a great historical impact on wins and losses. This team needs to trade for value, it needs to trade for keeps, and it needs to start today.
Four hundred word intro aside, let's begin the look at this trade market, yeah?
In this trade market, are the Detroit Pistons a buyer, a seller or both?
For the first time in many years, the Pistons are both a buyer and a seller. Their roster needs are paramount, but they actually have value to offer on the trade market. They have $20 million worth of expiring contracts between three players, they have veterans that are playing up to their contracts, and there is some young talent that could drive interest from buyers elsewhere.
What are the Detroit Pistons' needs as a buyer?
First and foremost, the Pistons need a natural distributor. Whether that be a starter or a backup point guard, this team needs a player that can run a five man offense. Detroit may have high hopes for Brandon Knight, but they could learn a little from looking at their own history. They waited four years for "point guard of the future" Rodney Stuckey to pan out, before shifting him to "shooting guard of the future" and now "sixth man of the future". Knight is averaging 3.6 assists over the last 17 games, and his true colors as a shoot-first off-guard are obvious to everyone but the Pistons front office. Detroit needs to buy a point guard on this trade market, and Brandon Knight should not be untouchable to make that trade happen.
Beyond a floor leader, Detroit could use a young, athletic wing scorer to play alongside Kyle Singler. Singler's versatility means Detroit can look for a shooting guard or a small forward to fill that role, with the rookie from Duke filling the other role. This is where Detroit's status as a seller kicks in-- the team currently holds a glut of wing players that needs to be sorted out, with the wise move being to finally part with Tayshaun Prince and embrace the team's youth movement.
What are the Detroit Pistons' opportunities as a seller?
For the first time in many years, the Pistons opportunities are plentiful. Between Corey Maggette, Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum, the team has $20 million in expiring contracts. Of the three, only Maxiell is playing up to or beyond his contract, meaning that his value to a playoff team paying luxury tax could be huge. Maxiell presents cost savings and has value on court as one of the league's better off-the-bench spark plugs up front.
In terms of longer-term contracts, the surprise of the season is the stand-out improvements of Tayshaun Prince and even Charlie Villanueva. Prince is playing his best ball in recent memory, approaching career high shooting from the perimeter and the free throw line while getting it done inside as well. Even as one of his strongest critics, I'll be one of the first to admit that he's playing in line with his $7 million salary this season, and he's looking like a buy option for other teams on the market. For Villanueva, he'll likely need a full season of regular burn before he's marketable, but he's playing like he deserves it.
Beyond the expiring contracts and the producing veterans, there are a few younger players that might warrant some calls to Detroit's front office. Austin Daye could be a no-brainer bet for another team, as he has what amounts to a $3M expiring deal with a second year team option by way of a qualifying offer. Despite his rotten play, the team that trades for him can't really lose. Jonas Jerebko's mysterious benching might lead to some calls from teams that have stat-minded general managers, as they might feel they see something that apparently Dumars and Lawrence Frank do not.
What three trade scenarios might Detroit explore before the 2013 NBA Trade Deadline?
The Detroit Pistons trade Rodney Stuckey to the Phoenix Suns for Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall.
Why would Phoenix do this? Thus far, Wes Johnson and Kendall Marshall have been disappointing for Phoenix. Marshall is struggling in the D-League, and Wes Johnson hasn't cracked the rotation, playing only 14 minutes in the last 9 games. Phoenix would be bundling the two for a combined prospective value that would net a stud sixth man guard in return, something the team currently needs. Phoenix has Goran Dragic manning the point, Shannon Brown struggling at shooting guard and no one of consequence behind them in the depth chart. Stuckey could be plugged in for 36 minutes per game behind Dragic and Brown either leading the second act or shifting off-the-ball with the starters. He's currently doing that in Detroit, to the tune of 15 points and 6 assists per game in December. Phoenix could certainly use that off the bench in their back court.
Why would Detroit do this? They'd have a four-year commitment to an excellent passer who needs work transitioning to the pros. Detroit can carve a spot for Marshall, especially in the absence of Rodney Stuckey. This is the kind of talent Detroit can take a risk on, and it happens to fit Detroit's greatest position of need. It could fail, Marshall may not be able to handle the pros, but if he can work himself into even a reserve role, that's a step up for Detroit. As for Wes Johnson, this one-time top four pick has been a terrible bust. Draft expectations aside, however, this is a low-risk, high-reward addition. Detroit would have all spring to evaluate Johnson's talent and what kind of NBA role he could hold. If they decide to pass on him, he expires this summer and Detroit walks away saving $6.5 million of the salary they owed Rodney Stuckey for next season.
In short, Detroit saves money while adding two low-risk, high-reward developmental prospects.
The Detroit Pistons trade Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko to the Toronto Raptors for Jose Calderon.
Why would Toronto do this? Before the season started, there was a flurry of low-ball trade options that Toronto could have explored for Jose Calderon. That was before he started out with one of the best years of his career. The truth that Toronto understands is that Calderon has real on court value and he brings salary relief to whomever acquires him. It just so happens that Toronto's most glaring need is a position of strength for Detroit, and the two might be able to help each other out.
Like Calderon, Prince is approaching a career year in perimeter shooting, and he's doing just about everything right to start the season. He'd immediately fill an ugly hole in Toronto, who might have the worst small forward rotation in the league. His veteran glue would hold together a promising Euro frontcourt and an athletic backcourt with no-nonsense leadership on both ends of the court.
The league's most euro-centric team would also be adding Jonas Jerebko, a combo forward who might be the antithesis of Andrea Bargnani. Despite his entirely questionable benching, Jerebko has been a net gain producer for the Pistons and has plenty of room to grow. He'd also join one of the largest Swedish populations in North America in Toronto, alongside Swedish Canadians Malin Akerman and Hayden Christensen. Yeah, my research be deep, y'all.
In short, Toronto would be using its best trade asset to acquire two upgrades at their greatest position of need. One a well-established veteran leader, the other a rising young Euro big.
Why would Detroit do this? For the salary relief and a prime shot at persuading Calderon to sign a multi-year, mid-level contract.
The Third Trade-- I'll leave that up to you in the comments.
The team still has $20 million in expiring deals to play with, and some trades for picks should be emphasized. How would you handle the remaining trade opportunities? Share your own in the comments.
The trades outlined here are not sexy. They do, however, follow a new philosophy for Detroit of trading for value while maintaining cap flexibility. Each of these trades is a money saver, but they collectively bring back talent in the form of young prospects and a veteran at a position of need. These are not new trade targets, but the players Detroit would be sending out haven't been explored in such scenarios. They shouldn't be seen as an end themselves, but a means to a better end in the future. Detroit's first aim should be to build a solvent salary profile, and these trades would achieve that. The next step, with cap flexibility and young prospects, is to build assets for larger, sexier trades in the future. Think Houston and James Harden this summer.