The timing isn’t ideal and the short-term result won’t be pretty. But at least the debate is over and the next move is clear.
The Pistons went as long as they could with Andre Drummond, too long actually. They waited so long, the decision basically has been made for them.
They have to trade Drummond before the Feb. 6 deadline and officially launch the rebuild that owner Tom Gores has steadfastly avoided.
It’s beyond obvious, although I contend it was obvious in the offseason and at last year’s trade deadline. With Drummond’s apparent plan to opt out of his final year at $28.8 million and become a free-agent, the Pistons likely would lose him for nothing if they don’t deal him now. It’s time to move on, for contractual and logical reasons. In fact, every veteran Pistons player should be on the block, and every young player – hello, Sekou Doumbouya – should get a closer look.
Blake Griffin just underwent another knee surgery and could be out for the season. The Pistons are 14-24, and no matter how you dissect the schedule and the standings – and the fascinating rebirth of Derrick Rose — nobody reasonably thinks they’re going anywhere. The Griffin Gamble that began in 2018, when the Pistons traded for the aging star, didn’t work, although Griffin did all he could before his body failed him.
Drummond didn’t quite do all he could, but in eight seasons here, he’s been durable and steady enough to make two All-Star teams and lead the league in rebounding three of the past four seasons, amid roster and coaching upheaval. He attacked his free-throw problem, raising his percentage to 63.6.
He has worked on maturity issues and seems more at peace with who he is and where he might go.
The Pistons should be able to coax a first-round pick and an expiring contract out of a contending team that views Drummond as a boost, even if he’s a rental. He’s having another career season averaging 17.5 points and 16 rebounds, and at 26 may yet become a more versatile player with true low-post moves. But the Pistons have run out of time to find out, and it makes no sense to try to keep him by offering a max contract.
No playoff wins
Even the most ardent fan must realize the Drummond conundrum has run its course, without a single playoff victory in his tenure.
You watch a performance like Tuesday night’s in Cleveland, when Drummond tallied 23 points and 20 rebounds and the Pistons pulled out a victory, and you’re reminded what could be — or could’ve been.
But in that same game, you see the 6-8 rookie Doumbouya score in double figures for the fourth straight start, and you’re reminded what’s on the way. At 19, Doumbouya is the youngest player in the league, and he had the NBA buzzing with a monstrous dunk over Tristan Thompson.
Frankly, the Pistons might even spark modest interest with more playing time for young guys such as Doumbouya, Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Christian Wood, Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk, especially under Dwane Casey, a coach known for his developmental ability.
There’s no shame in admitting Drummond isn’t a fit on a mismatched team that hasn’t chosen a true direction in Gores’ nine years, with two playoff appearances in that time. According to reports, several teams — Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Toronto — have discussed a Drummond trade. The Hawks have juicy expiring contracts (Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe) and two 2020 first-round picks.
Gores and Drummond are considered tight, and the owner reportedly rebuffed offers for the 6-10 center in the past. But the contract actually gives both an amicable way out.
Speaking to the media in Los Angeles last week, Gores finally indicated he might be ready for a different direction.
“We have to look at everything because we’re not winning,” Gores said. “Probably in the next month or so, we’re going to get together as an organization and just discuss things.”
Time to deal ... many
For years, the Pistons have tried to plug and patch, which was somewhat admirable as practically half the NBA dove into messy teardowns. Heck, the Pistons were the only team in Detroit not to join the rebuild craze, a strategy that technically ensures nothing except lots of losing. But in their attempt to appease fans with faux playoff contention, the Pistons drove them farther away.
If Gores and the front office were afraid people wouldn’t stomach a rebuild, well, have they glanced at the Little Caesars Arena stands lately? No one is stomaching this purgatory.
Griffin’s injury makes it easier to move Drummond, from a perception standpoint. And that makes it easier to move Rose – who’s playing well enough to possibly draw a first-round pick — or Markieff Morris or Langston Galloway or Tony Snell. Reggie Jackson’s injuries long ago made him expendable and untradeable.
Senior advisor Ed Stefanski might have pulled a coup by landing the raw and promising Doumbouya with the No. 15 pick in last year’s draft. If he plays it right and gets several teams bidding on Drummond, perhaps he can pull another one.
In the meantime, feel free to keep cheering for all the Drummond double-doubles, even if they lead to victories that could damage the Pistons’ draft position.
Every dominant performance also theoretically raises his trade value, and this could go on for a few weeks. Despite his limited offensive skills, Drummond’s numbers should be impressive enough to entice someone. As for the man himself, he’s handled the speculation professionally, expressing his affection for Detroit and his willingness to stay, as well as the reality of the business.
“I’m just here to play basketball, I can’t control what the front office does,” Drummond said recently. “If they make the move, they make the move.”
There’s little doubt now, the Pistons must make the move. They might be last to get in the rebuilding line in Detroit sports, but with a few shrewd deals and some draft-lottery luck, getting in line is the best option left.