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Want immediate changes in Detroit? Then root for a James Harden trade

A Harden blockbuster might be the only thing that leads to changes in Detroit as the Pistons could be an ideal third team in any deal

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons are entering media day fresh off what might be the organization’s least active offseason in franchise history. Since free agency began, I believe this would mark the first season Detroit signed no FAs to its 15-man roster. The only changes are two young additions in the draft — Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser — and two additions via trade — Joe Harris and Monte Morris.

Detroit is not only coming off of a 17-win season, it’s bringing in a coach with a storied history of success and armed with a long-term contract who will likely have the freedom to remake this roster to fit his preferred playing style.

That playing style has not historically included playing multiple big men at the same time. Detroit, meanwhile, has a surplus of bigs and some other pieces that they are potentially ready to move should the right deal present itself.

So far, no deal has been made. If that is to change between now and opening night, it likely requires everyone’s favorite discontented superstar, James Harden, to finally get moved out of Philadelphia.

Trust me when I say, Harden is eager to get out of Philly, and Philly fans are eager to say goodbye so that they can refashion a team around Joel Embiid that could hopefully keep up with the new-look rosters at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Multiple outlets reported Monday that Harden is skipping the team’s media day as he seeks to force a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. Harden could be fined for as long as he holds himself out of team activities, but after calling Sixers GM Daryl Morey a “liar” this offseason, I don’t think we’ll see Harden in a Philly uniform again.

What does any of this have to do with Detroit? Simple. The Pistons have deals in place that could be used to help facilitate trades — with a mix of players on multi-year deals and expiring contracts. The asking price for Detroit would not be especially high depending on the assets going out, and it would provide Detroit an opportunity to rebalance its roster in the ways Monty Williams prefers.

Players Who Could be Dealt

Let’s take a closer look at the players (and contracts) Detroit is likely willing to part with if a deal were to emerge. We will list from most “valuable” to least valuable.

  • Bojan Bogdanovic ($20 million, with $2 million guaranteed next year)
  • Alec Burks ($10 million expiring)
  • Joe Harris ($19 million expiring)
  • James Wiseman ($12 million, entering restricted free agency)
  • Killian Hayes $7 million, entering restricted free agency)
  • Marvin Bagley II ($12.5 million each of the next two seasons)

I wouldn’t quibble with anybody reordering this list after the two obvious in Bojan and Burks. Maybe someone sees upside in a young player, maybe they prefer expiring deals, maybe they prefer guaranteed efficiency near the rim in Bagley and have a hole at center.

The big takeaway, though, is that once you get to the Harris, Wiseman, Hayes, Bagley zone, it is more about moving on from a player with little future in Detroit and not about any particular return the Pistons would receive.

Hayes hasn’t worked out despite flashes as a defender and passer as he still hasn’t built a defined offensive game. The Pistons drafted Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in consecutive drafts and added Monte Morris as a more reliable backup this offseason. Hayes is the odd man out. He could get a fresh start somewhere, and might work best as a defensive-minded backup in the back court for a good team not asking him to add much offense.

Bogdanovic and Burks could obviously help any contender as a perimeter shooter and veteran who understands contributing to winning basketball. Harris is another sharpshooter, though perhaps more limited on a nightly basis, and Wiseman and Bagley are simply surplus big men to Detroit who could add big man depth and maybe a little bit of upside excitement. The team is obviously more committed to Jalen Duren as the center of the future, and the team gave Isaiah Stewart a long-term extension this offseason as a power forward/center for the next several years in Motown. Bagley and Wiseman, to put it simply, are available.

Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers

Most importantly, however, is that there are fewer financial commitments with any of these players going forward, and that could be crucial to getting a deal done in any Harden trade.

I’m sure the Clippers would be looking to part with Norman Powell ($18 million, $19 million, and $20 million left on his deal over the next three seasons). If Philly doesn’t want that financial commitment, he could get routed to Detroit and maybe a Bagley or Wiseman go to Philly with some draft equity coming to Detroit for taking on the long-term deal.

Or the husk of what once was Marcus Morris Sr. comes back to Motown, where he enjoyed some productive years, and the more productive Harris/Burks takes his place with Detroit getting a bit of sweetener or the ability to unload Bagley’s deal and open up further salary flexibility.

I don’t want to spend too much time building fake trades for something with a low likelihood of happening, but this is all an exercise in pointing out that if you were hoping you’d seen the last game featuring Killian Hayes or Bagley/Wiseman, then it seems like getting involved in a Harden deal is your last best option.