The Detroit Pistons find themselves in a familiar spot — going nowhere fast. They are a team who has beaten Golden State, San Antonio and the Houston Rockets. They are also 8-14 since Dec. 1 and decimated by injury.
The Pistons have plenty of players who could contribute to winning teams, but they don’t really have any players who can be relied on to win games. There are no dynamic athletes (offensively, at least) and there are no players whose gravitational pull make the job of their teammates’ easier.
This was especially true after embattled point guard Reggie Jackson went down with a severe ankle sprain that could keep him out of the lineup until April. Yes, Andre Drummond has improved in significant ways. Yes, Tobias Harris has taken the next step. Yes, Luke Kennard has mostly exceeded (non Donovan Mitchell related) expectations. But the whole is proving to be less than the individual parts and Detroit is scuffling and looking for an identity and a direction.
Enter the trade deadline — the solutions to every team’s existential problems, at least if you ask their fan base.
Will the Pistons be buyers or sellers?
Should the team buy some reinforcements to fill the injury-related gaps left at point guard (Jackson), small forward (Stanley Johnson) or in the front court (Jon Leuer) even if it means forfeiting the development of another young player (Henry Ellenson, Kennard or Johnson? Should a first-round pick be put on the table for a team that is capped out now and in the near future?
Or should the team be sellers? Realize this is yet another lost season and try and sell Avery Bradley to the highest bidder among true contenders looking for some bulldog defense on the perimeter?
It’s a hard question to answer, but with every step backward it is more incumbent on the team not to give into temptation to sacrifice any part of the future just so they can be slightly more confident in securing the seventh or eighth seed in the East.
You trade assets to take the next step as a franchise, not as a desperate attempt to plug holes on a sinking ship or to save your job for another year.
What are Detroit’s best trade assets? Is anyone truly untradeable?
Let’s handle the second question first — No, absolutely not. Everything should, and likely is, on the table in Detroit. Now, let’s assess some trade assets.
1. Andre Drummond
Drummond is quietly having a breakout year. The shift away from post-ups and into a facilitation role, combined with his historic improvement at the free-throw line means one simple thing — Detroit’s offensive struggles are not on the (hairy) shoulders of Drummond. He is not the issue. That being said, if a franchise takes on the traits of its most important player, the Pistons’ erratic, unreliable play can be laid at the feet of Drummond and a change might be needed. Whereas the fanbase was in open revolt last season and wanted to trade the high-priced big man at his lowest value, it actually makes much more sense now when the return would be substantially better.
2. Tobias Harris
Harris has taken the next step as a perimeter shooter and can score in myriad ways. Combine that with a thirst to be that primary offensive option that we’ve not seen from Tobias before, and it’s not hard to see him as Detroit’s most easily moveable trade chip.
3. Avery Bradley
Bradley has not lived up to the expectations in Detroit. The Pistons don’t have enough talent around him to allow Bradley to play to his fullest potential. But just because he might not make sense in Detroit doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a hot commodity among the NBA elite looking for a player who can help put them over the top.
4. Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson, Stanley Johnson
The bloom might be slightly off the rose for Johnson who looks like he might max out at a 10-year career as more of a defensive specialist. But Henry Ellenson is moveable simply because a big man with offensive skills will always be moveable. And then there is Luke Kennard who, no, is not Donovan Mitchell, but he is still the most promising Pistons rookie since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
What holes could the Pistons try and fill at the deadline?
If Detroit is committed to staunching the bleeding they will look for some reinforcements along the perimeter. Someone who can take some of the scoring burden off of Harris and especially Bradley who struggles most when asked to do too much creating for himself and others.
If Detroit goes for outpatient cosmetic surgery they could look to improve their perimeter shooting just to try and juice a moribund offensive. If the Pistons decide to go radical and for a major upgrade it would most likely be a big swing on a difference-making point guard. But those are hard to come by and would cost an astronomical price.
What’s your dream trade?
In my flights of fancy, the team targets a point guard. We could go logical and give up minimal assets for George Hill who is attainable because he is: 1. on the wrong side of 30 2. Makes a ton of money 3. Has fallen out of favor in Sacramento. So why would Detroit be interested? He can defend, he can shoot and he might open up this offense just enough to make it functional. He also can be released and only paid $1 million in 2019 so the financial commitment is relatively short.
What if you wanted to relieve the youth-movement Kings of the high-priced veterans they signed in the offseason? You could try a deal centered around Reggie Jackson, Boban Marjanovic and Stanley Johnson and figure out how much of a sweetener is needed to stomach taking the Jackson deal.
If you’re asking me to dream bigger then I’ll just mention a name and let your mind run wild — Kemba Walker. You tell me how to get it done and I’ll be fine with it.