Auburn Hills — In the last two seasons, the Pistons have been able to improve their roster at the trade deadline, acquiring point guard Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris with February deals.
It might be difficult for general manager Jeff Bower to pull off a similar deal this season, in case the Pistons are looking to improve their roster to make a bold move toward climbing the standings in the East.
Team president and coach Stan Van Gundy got a vote of approval from team owner Tom Gores over the weekend and is inclined to stick with the current roster, hoping they’ll pull out of the early-season struggles and start trending upward.
At 19-24, though, it’s tough to get a handle on what exactly this team is.
“The hard thing is this group has got enough talent to be a lot better than we are,” Van Gundy said Tuesday. “We have enough talent to make a run; it’s been hard to judge them because we haven’t been together and played as a group. That makes it difficult.”
Jackson missed the first quarter of the season. Even though he’s been back for 22 games, the 8-14 record in that span isn’t encouraging. And there’s no guarantee that any deal will pan out in the Pistons’ favor. That, along with several other factors, makes it difficult to predict whether Bower and Van Gundy will make a move before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
“It would have to be a deal that in our mind was a pretty obvious step forward,” Van Gundy said. “We’re not looking to make change for the sake of change.”
One thought is that the Pistons would need to have an offer for an All-Star-caliber player to break up their nucleus and try to accelerate their drive toward contending in the East, but given the economic climate created by the new TV deal and the skyrocketing salaries, even that’s not as probable as it was in recent years.
Van Gundy said with the deals for Jackson and Harris there was impetus for the other teams to want to deal them; the market might not be as open as teams look to start dealing in the next few weeks.
“You’re not going to get the deals where people don’t want to pay people. We’ve been able to take advantage of that a little bit with Tobias — they wanted to be under the cap to do stuff next summer,” Van Gundy said. “We were able to do that with Reggie — they didn’t want to meet his price. I don’t know that those kinds of deals are going to come up now. They’re going to be straight basketball-type deals, so I don’t think you’ll see as many major things.”
With three teams within three games of the No. 8 spot, there’s plenty of opportunity for teams to make a deal and make a run toward the playoffs. On one hand, that means fewer teams in the East will be willing to make a deal; on the other hand, some of that will shake out before the deadline.
“As you get closer to the deadline, the playoff race gets a little clearer and you’re talking about what everybody says is a very good draft,” Van Gundy said. “People’s priorities could change more in the next three weeks or so. You just don’t know. Jeff’s job is to keep talking to 29 other GMs and know what’s out there.”
The injured list seems to grow every day. Just when the Pistons were looking to get some of their players back, they have a couple more with maladies.
Centers Andre Drummond (knee sprain) and Aron Baynes (sore knee) didn’t practice Tuesday, nor did guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (shoulder sprain).
Drummond hurt his right knee early in the third quarter after a collision with D’Angelo Russell in Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He returned to the game but had some soreness and didn’t participate on Tuesday.
Van Gundy said Drummond would have an MRI later Tuesday to update his progress before Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Jon Leuer, who had a knee bruise and missed the last four games of the five-game western trip, returned to practice but was to see a doctor Tuesday and could get back in the starting lineup Wednesday.
“He practiced today,” Van Gundy said. “We went up and down floor. If he tells me he’s ready, he’ll play.”
Baynes was working out before practice on Tuesday and hurt his left knee but neither the severity, nor his status for Wednesday, is clear.
Pistons vs. Hawks
Tipoff: 8 Wednesday, The Palace of Auburn Hills
Outlook: The Hawks (24-17) are the hottest team in the league, winning 9 of their last 10, including a 105-98 victory on Dec. 30. The Pistons (19-24) start a stretch of eight home games in their next 11 contests.