Late on Dec. 22, Detroit Pistons assembled select media to deliver a message. Change was going to come. At the time, the Pistons were coming off a loss to a Utah Jazz team that was missing significant portions of its rotation, extending Detroit’s losing streak to 25 games.
“We require change. We’re not doing well.”
“We do have to change something.”
“ ... what’s for sure is change is coming. We are not right, right now. We have to either add or delete. We’ll be on it, and we are on it already. We will make changes.”
“I am expecting change. I do expect Troy to come up with change. Because staying exactly the same, I don’t think anyone can be here and say that in any genuine way that change is not required.”
All of those are direct comments from Tom Gores that night. He also mentioned that additions to the coaching staff were expected and that the team was “two weeks ahead of you guys, the fans, in that our disappointment is catchup up with us, too.”
Well, here we sit. This Friday will be two weeks since Gores said he was two weeks ahead of where fan sentiment was. The Pistons are set to play the Jazz again and nothing is different. Change has not arrived. Well, they did hire Brian Adams to help fill in the gap left by the still-missing Dan Burke on the coaching staff, but that is it.
No trades. No adding. No deleting. No firings.
So where is that change we were promised?
Getting to ‘Yes’ on a Deal is Difficult, Especially Now
As the headline indicates, there are 29 reasons the Pistons haven’t been able to realize that change. Don’t worry. This article isn’t a laundry list of excuses. It’s the simple fact that while the Detroit Pistons are incredibly motivated to make a deal, and the league knows the Pistons are highly motivated to make a deal, nobody else in the league is ready to shake hands quite yet.
Especially the kind of moves the Pistons should be looking to make — not a swing for a superstar, but more marginal moves at the ends of the rotation that fortify the depth and skill level to complement the team’s young players.
If the Pistons wanted to pay, or overpay, to get into the OG Anunoby sweepstakes, I’m sure they could have. If they wanted to pull the emergency alarm and surrender real assets for Zach LaVine, the Bulls would be all too happy to comply.
Thankfully, or perhaps hopefully, those are not the moves the Pistons are interested in. Instead, they are looking for superior options to having players like Kevin Knox, Isaiah Livers, James, Wiseman, and Killian Hayes in their rotation.
They have likely called on several players who fit that bill. The bar is pretty low, after all. But why would any NBA team want to make a marginal trade in late December or early January instead of waiting close to the NBA Trade Deadline on Feb. 8?
The other 29 teams in the NBA want to see how this market shakes out, and they want to see where they are before making any definitive moves. They work on the timeline that best serves their needs and not anyone else’s.
The only way the Pistons can convince a team to say yes now is to make an offer too good to refuse. Detroit is not in a position to allow itself to get fleeced on a deal, even when the alternative is continuing to rack up embarrassing and lopsided losses.
I am sure teams are likely motivated to lower a long-term luxury tax bill by sending out a good player for an expiring contract. But that same opportunity will likely be available in February. Also, who is to say that a better offer wouldn’t come along between the Pistons’ offer and the trade deadline? So why would they be motivated to say yes now?
Nobody owes the Pistons anything, and no owner is in a rush to save the Pistons from some more immediate embarrassment. In fact, the more embarrassing it gets for Detroit, the better potential offers might become.
That is why no change has arrived for these struggling Pistons. It might make sense for the Pistons, but it doesn’t make sense for anybody else.
Alternatives to the Trade Market
If the Pistons want change now, they really only have a few options and none of them are good. Detroit can start cutting the dead weight on its roster, but doing so requires forfeiting the option that those players could be used in deals over the next several weeks.
It’s clear to me, and it should be clear to every decision-maker in the Pistons organization, that Joe Harris isn’t going to help this Pistons team this season on the floor. It’s clear to me that it’s just never going to happen for James Wiseman. That is more than $30 million in expiring money you wouldn’t be able to trade, but it is also two roster spots that could be used on superior players that could help you now.
You could use those roster spots to mine the G League for a top performer or you could roll the dice on even more veterans, giving them one month to show they can stick before the trade deadline hits.
Alternatively, you could keep those high-priced players for potential trade fodder and cut bait on younger, marginal players who might or might not have an NBA future, but it surely isn’t with the Pistons. That would be guys like Killian Hayes or Isaiah Livers.
At this point, it seems unlikely the Pistons will tender a qualifying offer to Hayes as he heads to restricted free agency. Livers is perhaps the worst of a poor-performing bunch of Pistons bench players, and maybe it is best to mutually part ways now.
The list of players available isn’t pretty — TJ Warren, JaMychal Green, Darius Bazley, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Khem Birch, and Frank Kaminsky would be the kind of players you put at the top of Detroit’s list.
The list of available G League players isn’t as easy to land on with so many guys locked into two-way deals. Justise Winslow? Former Piston Braxton Key? “Former” Piston Tony Bradley?
Utilize the Two-Way Players
Creating roster spots for G Leaguers who might or might not perform feels unlikely for a team that doesn’t seem terribly interested in giving its own two-way players swings at bat in the rotation.
Stanley Umude got more than 150 minutes when the Pistons were most injury-depleted, but Jared Rhoden and Malcolm Cazalon played 30 and three minutes, respectively. A two-way player hasn’t seen the floor since Nov. 30. I struggle to argue that Umude couldn’t deliver whatever the team is getting from Livers at this point.
Make Better Use of What You Have
There simply isn’t an easy pathway to adding significant talent to the Pistons no matter how motivated the team is to do something different. The things that are in their control mostly involve better utilization of their current talent.
That pathway is as clear as it is frustrating that Monty Williams refuses to accept it. First, play Marvin Bagley instead of James Wiseman. Neither is good, especially on defense, but the talent differential is stark. When Isaiah Stewart is healthy, you can have an honest conversation about whether he should become the backup center.
Second, shorten the rotation. The Pistons can keep the current starters in place. Play Ausar Thompson off the bench, but only with Jaden Ivey and one of Cade or Bojan. Play Alec Burks when Cade sits, and play Killian if it's clear you need a point guard on the floor.
Third, and I’m just stating it plainly to underline the importance, stagger your starters. Even one starter with a bench lineup probably isn’t enough. You can alternate having Cade and Bojan off the floor, but only if Ivey is also on the floor. Those are the lynchpins to shooting and playmaking required to have a functional offense.