Pistons get Thornton, Motiejunas for Anthony, first pick
Auburn Hills — By the time the smoke cleared, the Pistons emerged from Thursday’s NBA trade deadline as one of the most active teams, adding three new faces after two deals in three days.
Following Tuesday’s trade with the Magic, acquiring Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova, the Pistons made another move before the deadline to try to shore things up for a playoff push.
The Pistons added shooting guard Marcus Thornton and forward Donatas Motiejunas from the Rockets in exchange for center Joel Anthony and a 2016 protected first-round pick.
The pick is protected in the top eight this season and has top-10 protection in 2017 and 2018. Houston later dealt Anthony to Philadelphia for the draft rights of forward Chukwudiebere Maduabum .
“If you would have asked two weeks ago and said we had a chance to get either one of these guys — certainly both — we would have laughed,” Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We didn’t see any avenue to those guys.”
For the Pistons, the move carries a bit of risk.
Motiejunas, a 7-foot, 222-pound stretch-power forward, has been limited after back surgery last year. He has played in 14 games this season — none since Dec. 31 — and is averaging 5.6 points and 2.1 rebounds and shooting 41 percent (7-for-17) on 3-pointers.
“He supposedly is healthy and ready to get going right now,” Van Gundy said. “You always wonder about a back. In terms of a physical, we’re going to have him checked out very, very well.
“It’s a calculated risk — a little more risk maybe than some of the other deals we’ve had — but with a very high reward.”
Motiejunas has spent time with the Rockets D-League affiliate to try to get back into playing condition, but indications are he is healthy and will be ready to play soon.
“I didn’t play much this season,” Motiejunas told the Houston Chronicle. “Now, I’m healthy. Instead of risking me, they traded me.”
Van Gundy is hoping Motiejunas can get back to last season’s form, when he shot 37 percent on 3-pointers and averaged 12.0 points and 5.9 rebounds.
With his versatility, Van Gundy envisions Motiejunas as a potential pair with Andre Drummond or as a stretch-center who has outside-shooting range.
Motiejunas was selected 20th overall in 2011 by the Timberwolves and sent to the Rockets in a draft-day deal. He’ll be a restricted free agent after the season.
Thornton, at 6-foot-4, could provide some depth off the bench, especially with the injury concerns of Jodie Meeks (toe fracture). In 47 games with the Rockets, Thornton averaged 10 points and shot 34 percent on 3-pointers in about 19 minutes.
Thornton, 28, is a low-risk acquisition since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“Marcus Thornton is a guy who can come off the bench and give you scoring and help fill the void since we had when Jodie went down early in the year,” Van Gundy said.
It’s unclear whether the Pistons are done trading. There are indications they had interest in bringing back point guard D.J. Augustin, who was traded from the Thunder to the Nuggets for Randy Foye.
If things don’t work out with the Nuggets and Augustin is released, he could sign with another team.
The Pistons have veteran Steve Blake, along with Spencer Dinwiddie — who will stay with the Pistons after a stint in the D-League with the Grand Rapids Drive — as the backup options at point guard behind starter Reggie Jackson.
Harris had his first practice with the Pistons since the trade and started to learn the new plays before Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards. He’s looking to get on board quickly and be able to play significant minutes, while learning on the fly.
“A practice like this is a good way to get to know a lot of qualities of the guys and then as the season progresses and game after game, I’ll continue to get even more comfortable. Today was a good step in the right direction,” Harris said.
“I have done a good job of adapting to stuff like that. (Van Gundy) gave me a bunch of plays and I thought I did a good job getting to know my spots at both positions. I’ll continue to learn and get better, but the guys have been helping me out a lot.
Although Meeks was scheduled to be limited until at least March 1 because of his foot injury, Van Gundy said that Meeks participated in drills on Wednesday and added some workouts on Thursday, though the team didn’t do any 5-on-5 work because Aron Baynes was sick and Anthony didn’t practice, meaning they had just one center.
Position: Power forward
Age: 25 (Sept. 20, 1990), Kaunas, Lithuania
Drafted: No. 20 in 2011 by Timberwolves (traded on draft night to the Rockets)
Contract: $2,208,205 this season, will be a restricted free agent
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 28 (June 5, 1987), Baton Rouge, La.
Drafted: No. 43 in 2009 by Heat (traded on draft night to the Hornets)
Other teams: Kings, Nets, Celtics, Suns
Contract: $1,186,000, will be free agent