The Pistons have Brandon Jennings at point guard, but if Rajon Rondo is available, they could reconsider their plans. (Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)
Washington — Trade season is upon us in the NBA and the Pistons could very well be front and center.
For Pistons president Joe Dumars, this past summer was about stockpiling assets and upgrading the talent base. The next five weeks could be about flipping some of these assets for better-fitting pieces.
With one month before the clock runs out on all meaningful transactions, there promises to be a flurry of activity, for various reasons. The trade deadline is Feb. 20.
There are teams trying to get under the more punitive luxury tax, as this is the third year of a more restrictive collective bargaining agreement that hurts big spenders -- rewarding teams that keep their books balanced.
Also, with a supposedly loaded draft coming up in June, draft picks will be hard to obtain, as a few teams are hoarding picks.
Then there are the teams that will make deals to balance out uneven chemistry, to make a final playoff push with so many teams tanking.
The Pistons fall under the last category, with the team’s strength clashing with their style and somewhat reluctance to abandon their philosophy of using their three big men.
The Pistons are good, not great. And in the categories that should be a minor hindrance -- such as shooting and floor spacing – those things have the potential to derail what could be a return to the NBA playoffs.
Winning three of four, including a comeback victory against the Wizards Saturday night, is certainly cause for hope. Amid all their struggles, they’re 2.5 games behind the Wizards and Bulls for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We just have to figure out how to play with each other and keep competing,” said guard Rodney Stuckey, who helped break the game open in the fourth quarter. “We let a games slip away this year in the fourth. It’s all about finishing. We have the talent, we just have to come out and play.”
Stuckey and Josh Smith (20 second-half points) keyed the second-half attack, but Smith hitting jumper after jumper can only be looked at as fool’s gold, considering his shooting numbers headed into Saturday’s game.
Teams will gladly give Smith 20-footers, and the Pistons can’t depend on that type of shooting output on a nightly basis if they want to hold off the Nets, Knicks and other teams for a playoff spot, let alone get into a prime position to win a first-round series.
Smith is better suited at power forward, where he plays closer to the basket on offense and is in better help position defensively; Smith can protect the basket better than Greg Monroe.
Monroe, who’s approaching restricted free agency, has to be wondering about his future, although he refuses to talk about it publicly. It’s likely something the Pistons and Monroe would prefer handling during the offseason. But if the Pistons don’t pick up any traction soon, will a team come in with a sweetheart deal?
The Pistons aren’t shopping Monroe but they’re near the point where at least listening would be prudent, although the market for shot-creating small forwards isn’t the greatest (Philadelphia’s Evan Turner, Golden State’s Harrison Barnes), and they’re not giving away Monroe for pennies on the dollar.
And nobody believes Celtics head honcho Danny Ainge will hold onto point guard Rajon Rondo, who just returned after recovering from ACL surgery, at all costs.
The Pistons have always been enamored with Rondo, the ultimate facilitator and competitor. And though Detroit has Brandon Jennings, he’s not necessarily viewed as a long-term option at point guard.
His contract is moveable and the Pistons didn’t hesitate to trade Brandon Knight last offseason for an upgrade. What’s to stop them from making another stair-step move?
Stuckey, like Charlie Villanueva, is on an expiring contract and the Pistons face the prospect of possibly losing him for nothing in the offseason, as he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Although he can help the Pistons clinch a playoff spot, the franchise must ask itself if he’s more valuable to another team and consider what it could get in return.
Would they consider moving him to Orlando for former Piston Arron Afflalo? Or would the Magic turn that deal down?
“I don’t think about it, I just try to come out and play,” Stuckey said. “You have to be prepared for whatever happens. I never think about when February comes around. I’m just trying to come out and play basketball. Everything else would take care of itself.”
With Jonas Jerebko toiling at the end of the bench and one year left on his contract, along with the aforementioned players, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons active. In fact, it would be a little shocking if they stand pat, even after bringing in eight new players this season.
Bringing in a dependable shooter would do worlds for a team that’s last in the NBA in that category, considering better shooting would’ve prevented a few late-game losses this season.
“Why wouldn’t you want a 3-point shooter to spread the floor? Anybody would take that,” Stuckey said. “It’s not up to me, you’re putting a lot of heat on me. To tell the truth, it’s on (Dumars) and the rest of those guys to make that decision.”