Jameer Nelson and James Ennis may not drop any jaws like the Blake Griffin deal did, but they were still important moves for the Pistons.
To recap, here were the deals (h/t to Awesome Hog):
Pistons get Jameer Nelson, Bulls get Willie Reed and the teams swap second round picks in 2022.
Pistons get James Ennis, Grizzlies get Brice Johnson and that 2022 second round pick.
The Pistons started the day with eight big men on the roster. That’s way too many, especially since the team only had two players who can fill time at small forward. They had a few more bodies capable of helping out at point guard, but they’re also an Ish Smith injury away from the position being entirely filled by guys who have been on two-way contracts this season.
Nelson and Ennis might not even wind up in the rotation for the Pistons, but their presence makes for nice insurance. Both players are proven veterans who can shoot and ensure that the team can absorb one of their current rotation players needing to miss time.
Hopefully Nelson didn’t sign a lease in Chicago, as his move comes just a week after being included in the Nikola Mirotic trade. While he’s nowhere near the player he was earlier in his career under Stan Van Gundy, Nelson was a competent backup point guard for the Pelicans this season.
Dwight Buycks has been much better than anticipated and Smith has been less of a fourth quarter liability since the Griffin trade, but if anything changes on either of those fronts, Nelson can reliably fill the void. The Pistons would ask more of Nelson than to just get the ball up the court, run some sets, and serve as a reliable catch and shoot threat. Nelson can do that.
Stanley Johnson has also seemed to turn a corner over offensively the past couple of weeks, averaging 15.7 points per game over the past six games. Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard have also been rock solid, so there’s not really a need for Ennis to step into the rotation. Still, his presence is a nice luxury.
He’s one of those under the radar guys who is your quintessential glue guys. He’s a better athlete than you expect, plays stout defense, and can knock down the open three.
If either of these guys are on the court, they’re not going to hurt you. That’s important.
The Pistons have already shown how valuable solid depth is. Partly due to trades, partly due to injuries, 20 players have stepped on the court for the Pistons so far this year. Bullock and Anthony Tolliver have been valuable contributors, combining for 2,000 minutes so far this year. They were the 13th and 14th roster spots filled over the summer.
There’s also a risk in Reggie Jackson’s return to the roster. Of course, his recovery from a knee injury didn’t go entirely smoothly, to put it mildly. The latest speculation still has him two or three weeks away, but this could certainly be one of those situations where in two or three weeks he’s still looking like two or three weeks away. And if he’s ineffective and needs to be shut back down like last year...welp. Nelson hedges the Pistons bet on a smooth return from Jackson.
Hopefully Nelson and Ennis don’t wind up being needed. Hopefully the team stays healthy, the current rotation stays productive, Jackson comes back playing like he did before his injury, and the Pistons continue to look like one of the more intriguing teams in the East. But if not, the Pistons have their safety net in place.