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Why the Ben Gordon trade was good for the Pistons

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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After three years of running in place -- or 1,080 days to be precise -- Joe Dumars finally was able to make a trade for the Detroit Pistons.

And, surprisingly to me, a lot of people are unhappy about it. One of those people is Dan Feldman, proprietor of Piston Powered, which is a daily read for any self-respecting Pistons fan.

It is not often that I disagree with Feldman but I sure disagree on this. Shortly after the trade was announced Feldman wrote an anguished post about how this trade is a sign that the Pistons are a "dysfunctional organization." I would argue that, in fact, it proves just the opposite. For the first time in a long time they are functioning again. They are taking steps necessary to improve.

Feldman sees the trade as a sign of a number of ills -- dropping revenue leading to cost cutting, a sign of the team's lack of talent, a clue that it suffers from a toxic locker room, proof that it is a team with blinders on with no clue how NBA economics work.

"The trade is a symptom (of dysfunction), not the cause," Feldman writes.

But I think he is missing the big point of this move -- when you've been "symptomatic" and sick as long as the Pistons have, eventually the smart thing to is opt for surgery.

And Dumars and the Pistons just had a Gordon-ectomy.

I've been saying for years, and especially when Tom Gores finally bought the team, that the organization's path forward seemed clear -- they were going to retain what little talent they had, build through the draft and simply ride out the horrid Charlie Villanueva and Gordon contracts -- that is, unless an opportunity presented itself to act sooner. And an opportunity just presented itself.

Yes, it came with a real cost (a first-round draft pick), but it also moved up the rebuilding plan an entire calendar year. I'd argue that a mid-first-round draft pick is worth that price any day of the week.

Read all the reasons this was a great deal for Detroit after the jump.


Why? Because even though Gordon wasn't the biggest reason this team has underperformed he was the biggest impediment to the team having any flexibility going forward.

And make no mistake this trade was all about flexibility.

Let's be a little heartless and not look at the team as a bunch of hard-working players but instead as simply a bunch of assets that can be exchanged for other goods.

The Pistons have cheap, young players in Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, and to a lesser extent Jonas Jerebko. And you can probably even throw Kyle Singler and Austin Daye in there if you want to be charitable -- they're cheap anyway. They have a valuable and tradeable asset in Rodney Stuckey and to a lesser extent Tayshaun Prince. They also now have roughly $18 million in expiring contracts (Corey Maggette, Will Bynum and Jason Maxiell).

Any one of these pieces can fetch something on the open market, while combining them can bring an even better return if the right deal presented itself.

Youth movement done ... moving

"But you never trade something as valuable as a first-round pick," you say? Well, how much youth do you need on one team, anyway?

After Thursday the Pistons will have potentially three more young players on rookie contracts. With two more conceivably joining them next year (unless the team makes the playoffs and they forfeit the pick to the Bobcats).

That means that the year the Pistons will be most likely to lose their pick (2014), they will have the following players under contract (note: draft picks in italics for illustrative purposes, 2014 ages in parentheses): Greg Monroe (24), Brandon Knight (22), Kyle Singler (26), John Henson (23), Scott Machado (24), Kyle O'Quinn (24), Adonis Thomas (20), Erick Green (22).

That would be half a roster all under the age of 25. And that doesn't even take into account the possibility of the team re-signing Rodney Stuckey (28 in 2014) or Austin Daye (26).

Yes, a team can always use another good young player but I'd say that by then the Pistons will have been well-served by their youth movement and looking for other avenues to improve. By 2014, or 2013 even, it will be time to round out the roster with veterans to complement all those building blocks acquired through the draft.

It's the amnesty, stupid

One of the fundamental disagreements I have with Feldman's piece is his contention that 1. If it was really about clearing cap room, the team should have amnestied Gordon and 2. The Pistons have proven that they can't pay the salary of an amnestied player and his replacement.

This claim is fundamentally bizarre to me. First, as has been discussed before the amnesty clause never made much sense to the Pistons when they were saddled with both Gordon and Villanueva on the books. The team wouldn't get far enough below the cap to make any difference by axing one of the players. They'd still have been financially tapped and waiting for 2014 until the other albatross contract came off the books.

But by trading one of the two for an expiring contract (with a first-round pick as sweetener) amnestying the other makes a lot more sense. With Gordon (the bigger of the two deals) gone, the Pistons have the option of amnestying CV and suddenly being way under the cap.

When talking about the salary cap its easy to get lost in the weeds but its really this simple. Amnestying CV means the Pistons have roughly $37 million in salary commitments in 2013-14 after factoring incoming rookie deals and roster holds based on a roughly $60 million cap. And that is if the team guarantees the last year of Rodney Stuckey's deal ($8 million) and exercises its option ($4 million) on Daye. Let those two walk and you're looking at only $27 million in commitments. That right there is some walking around money.

Oh yeah, and our new owner is a billionaire. I'm not saying he's Mark Cuban or anything but I will say that nothing has shown that Gores isn't willing to spend money to improve this team. Hell, even though the writing was on the wall before this strike-shortened season that both team and attendance were going to be awful, it didn't stop Tom Gores from taking out his wallet for several million dollars worth of upgrades to the Palace and a lot of money to bring in big-name halftime acts.

That wasn't necessarily "smart money." But it was an investment. And so is this trade. And so is amnestying Villanueva.

I simply don't buy that because the Pistons would have to eat $7 million to amnesty CV that the team wouldn't then take that $7 million and spend it on good players. It just doesn't pass the smell test. This team led the league in attendance not too long ago. Currently, the Tigers draw great crowds despite the horrible economy and there is no reason to think the fans wouldn't return to the Palace with a better product on the floor.


So did I just spend 1,000 words wasting your time? Probably. So I'll be brief as possible to wrap this thing up. The Ben Gordon trade was a good trade for the Pistons. Why? Because 1. It provides much greater roster flexibility going forward. 2. Although the team lost a valuable asset it already has plenty of youth in key spots, and the expiring contract of Magette is something that can be used to collect another asset 3. It sped up the rebuilding process of the team by an entire calendar year by allowing the team to explore its amnesty options 4. Less dribbling off of less feet. 5. I don't have to pretend to care whether or not Ben Gordon plays for Great Britain in the Olympics.