The Detroit Pistons were the most active team during NBA trade deadline week. Owner Tom Gores promised change was coming to the roster, and change has, in fact, arrived. Eight new players. Veterans shipped out and disappointing draft picks released.
This is not the Pistons of October-January. It’s the Pistons as they always should have been, and that fact is as big an indictment of owner Tom Gores and GM Troy Weaver than any I can think of.
Detroit was constantly mentioned along with all the biggest names on the market — Zach LaVine, DeJounte Murray, and the like. The Pistons had expiring contracts to offer, and they were supposedly desperate. Extremely desperate, if you asked most NBA talking heads. Makes sense when your team has a historic losing streak and is threatening the NBA’s worst-ever record.
But the Pistons didn’t sell low on its young core, and it didn’t aggregate all of its assets for one big home run swing to try and alter its fortunes. Instead it made smaller moves targeting the fundamental deficiencies of this roster.
If you had told most Pistons fans that Detroit would walk away from the deadline having shipped out Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks, their two most reliable veteran players, as well as Marvin Bagley, Monte Morris and Kevin Knox, and the return was players who collectively have averaged around 15 minutes per game and have a healthy number of DNPs on this season’s resume, you’d probably be disappointed.
But that’s missing the forest for the trees. The Pistons sacrificed veteran shooters, yes, but they got back players who are not only reasonable perimeter players, but much better defenders than the men they are replacing.
Instead of winning a news cycle or garnering some headlines, they made wholesale changes to finally fix a fundamentally broken roster. It’s about time.
Their haul is headlined by two wings, one good defender and one great defender in Simone Fontecchio and Quentin Grimes, respectively. Fontecchio doesn’t have as well-rounded an offensive game as Bogdanovic, but he’s a similarly effective high-volume 3-point shooter, and he’s a much better defender than Bojan, who at this stage of his career is a sieve on that end.
Grimes is even better. Last season, he broke out for the Knicks and was regularly asked to guard the opposing team’s toughest assignment. He hasn’t had as many opportunities this season as the Knicks have gotten deeper. But the 6-foot-5 guard should already be considered the team’s second or third best defender behind just Ausar Thompson and Isaiah Stewart, and can help shore up the point of attack defense a great deal. He’s also a player who is used mostly as a catch-and-shoot option on the perimeter and has converted 37% for his career.
These two players are the perfect complements to Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, and Jalen Duren.
Detroit also previously added shooting depth at the center and power forward positions by trading the non-shooting Bagley for Washington’s Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari. We’ve already seen a profound impact on Detroit’s offensive cohesion with just the addition of those two players.
The Pistons are now hoping to see similar growth on the defensive end with Muscala, Fontecchio, and Grimes getting rotation minutes, and they also could deploy Troy Brown Jr. to add a little 3-and-D to the proceedings.
They replaced Bagley, Morris, Burks, Bogdanovic, Isaiah Livers, Joe Harris and Kevin Knox with Grimes, Fontecchio, Mike Muscala, Danilo Gallinari, Troy Brown Jr., Evan Fournier, and Malachi Flynn. That is a fundamental shift in identity, and a huge improvement in flexibility and defensive acumen.
The Pistons, for nearly the entire season, have been asked to pick their poison. Either play this offensive player who is entirely hopeless on defense, or play this defensive specialist who cannot make an open shot to save his life. You can’t field a lineup or build a cohesive rotation with those limitations.
We can, and we should, talk about the value or lack thereof for players like Bogey and Burks, who likely would have netted more if traded a year ago. That’s fine. But what is also true is that a team with perhaps the league’s most anemic set of wings in the NBA now has a trio it can count on.
These moves are not home runs. But they are fundamentally smart moves to build a cohesive roster. They are what a team should be doing to put young players in a position to play in space, to cover up defensive lapses, and to allow them to potentially string together some defensive stops and build momentum throughout a game.
This is the kind of team the Pistons should have started the season with, and shame on Troy Weaver for not having the foresight or the skills to make it happen back then. It was a completely unforced error to go into a season you said was important, and said the goal was to be playing competitive games for an entire season, and then trot out one of the most profoundly and fundamentally flawed rosters in recent memory.
The Pistons finally have a competent roster. There is no reason to be happy about that, and there is no reason to think we are now going to learn a lot about Detroit’s young core and head coach Monty Williams. But we should not forget who got them here.
Change was promised. Change is here. But fundamental change should still be on the table as the Pistons head into the offseason. Change on the roster, change on the sidelines, and change in the front office.