Wojo: Pistons should consider all trade offers
It’s trade deadline time, which means it’s temptation time, which means we’re about to find out what Stan Van Gundy really thinks about his team.
The Pistons are looking, which doesn’t mean they’re actively shopping. But there’s enough churning in the NBA rumor mill to suggest they’re considering a bold move, and I understand why. The Pistons have been disappointing, 27-30 and clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. They don’t play again until the league resumes Thursday, conveniently just hours after the 3 p.m. deadline.
In the NBA, if you don’t have a superstar, you’re seeking one or hoping to develop one. The Pistons don’t have one, although they pay Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson as if they sort of do. The Pistons’ payroll is eighth-highest in the league, and they still have to ante up for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this offseason.
They should be getting more from their investments, and that includes Van Gundy, the team president and coach. So it’s no surprise Drummond’s and Jackson’s names keep popping up in trade rumors, and in the next few days, Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower will take a risk no matter what they do. Dealing one of their top players would be risky. But with the team’s chemistry issues, keeping their top players is risky, too.
Big names floated
I hate shakeups for the sake of shakeups, and the Jackson-for-Ricky Rubio idea a few weeks ago seemed silly. Van Gundy denied that specific rumor, but doesn’t deny the Pistons talk all the time about possible deals. Most recently, Orlando reportedly offered D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green for Jackson, as unappealing to the Pistons as it sounds.
Sacramento just sent enigmatic superstar DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans in a puzzling, lopsided deal, as if the Kings couldn’t get rid of him quickly enough. It was an All-Star weekend stunner, followed by a report the Kings had previously turned down an offer from the Pistons of Drummond, 23, for Cousins, 26.
That would’ve been a franchise-altering blockbuster for the Pistons, although they probably would’ve had to kick in a draft pick or more. That the Kings took less from the Pelicans — Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, two draft picks and a dozen team calendars — could be an indictment of Drummond’s value, or an indictment of Cousins, who’s temperamental but supremely talented, averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds.
Van Gundy is aggressive, having made significant deals at his two deadlines here — for Jackson and Tobias Harris — and has pulled off nine trades overall. Generally that’s good, because the hunt for star power can never end. But the delicate truth is, he can only rearrange the pieces so many times before he has to question whether his own hard-driving coaching style contributes to the Pistons’ stalled development.
Jackson hasn’t been the same since missing 21 games with knee tendinitis, and the Pistons have strayed from the pick-and-roll plan with Drummond. They saw how a pass-first point guard like Ish Smith can set a quicker pace and get more players involved, often late in games. They play cohesively with Smith, and that’s what sparked a team meeting in December, where players pleaded for more energy and ball movement from Jackson.
Looking to future
That’s also the challenge for Van Gundy, as a coach and executive. There are other deals to be made this week, now that Cousins is gone. The Pacers might be compelled to ship Paul George, who hasn’t committed to a contract extension. The Bulls might move Jimmy Butler, an All-Star averaging 24.5 points per game. George and Butler can be difference-makers in different environments, and maybe that’s how other teams view Jackson and Drummond.
I have a hard time imagining Tom Gores authorizing a deal for Drummond, who’s tight with the owner. But if Gores also is all-in with Van Gundy, who did get them back to the playoffs and back to relevance, anything should be possible. It also could be a smaller move to alter the team’s personality, perhaps for Orlando’s young wing Mario Hezonja or point guard Elfrid Payton, or someone to pump up the Pistons’ 3-point shooting.
Whatever happens this week isn’t really about this season, because there’s no championship to be won anytime soon. It’s about maneuvering for the next few years, after Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio are done divvying up all the titles. Until you absolutely, positively identify your centerpiece — for instance, like the Celtics have with new superstar Isaiah Thomas — you’re still looking.
The Pistons aren’t the same team they were a year ago — they should be better. Their bench is better. Jon Leuer provides more, as does Smith. Drummond has supported Jackson, noting it takes a while to regain strength and confidence after missing so much time. Van Gundy has defended both of his key pieces at times, but his impatience is showing.
The Pistons still desperately need to know what they have. They made their commitment by giving big contracts to Drummond and Jackson, knowing neither was perfectly ideal, and both could be intriguing and confounding. There’s time for the duo to figure it out, but no longer a guarantee this is where they’ll do it.