Dallas — The NBA trade deadline is less than two weeks away, on Feb. 7, and there’s the usual hand-wringing about what the Pistons are going to do to improve the roster. It’s much of the usual banter around this time, which some pure fiction and some good ideas to consider.
This week’s mailbag focuses on how the Pistons might handle some possible deals and what it could mean for their long-term future.
Question: If the Pistons did not make that big trade last year. Would they have had a better record this year? — @Danthemancarnah
Answer: It’s tough to deal in hypotheticals, but this is an intriguing point about the Blake Griffin trade last January.
To review, the Pistons sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and the 2018 first-round pick to the Clippers for Griffin (plus Brice Johnson and Willie Reed, who are no longer with the team).
One of the biggest reasons for the move was giving the Pistons security with a top-tier player in Griffin. Despite the questions about his past injuries, they pushed their chips in the middle of the table to get a star they could build around.
So far, Griffin has exceeded expectations with his play on the court and has missed just two games, both for rest. Griffin has become their leader in the locker room and on the court, he’s their go-to guy. The problem is the pieces around him.
Harris would be in the last year of his contract, which would make him a prime trade candidate ahead of this year’s deadline. Bradley would have become an unrestricted free agent last summer — and chances are that the Pistons wouldn’t have been able to retain him. Marjanovic was a fan favorite but didn’t get enough playing time to warrant his salary.
The question presupposes that the Pistons would have been able to get someone to replace Bradley’s salary of $9 million last summer to fit in the starting lineup, which is a limited pool. If not the Griffin deal, they likely would have had to make another one in the summer.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that they probably wouldn’t have as good a record if that had stood pat instead of making the Griffin trade. It’s hard to gauge, but just off the top of my head, that’s the best answer I have.
Q: In the past, Piston trades have been silent until the trade actually takes place. No rumors. Do you think it will be the same with Ed? — @DetBuckets
A: Stan Van Gundy used to bring up the point about the number of trades that were rumored and bandied about in the media in comparison to the few that actually come to fruition. For some reason, that’s always stuck in my head.
From the comments Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski made this week (link) on the Wired Pistons podcast, it seems that they’re looking to stand pat unless a very manageable deal — both in the salary cap and in the roster fit — is presented to them. They just don’t seem like they’re in the market to make a big splash, as many of the rumored deals and interest would have them be.
The path forward seems to be to be prudent with contracts and try to rebuild on the fly in the next two years, when most of their current contracts — aside from Griffin, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and the rookies — come off the books.
Q: When Blake is OFF the Pistons offense craters. What should be the ideal lineup be with him off that can score a respectable amount and not hemorrhage points on the other end? — @shamshammgod
A: This is another intriguing question. I’m going to say it’s Ish Smith, Reggie Jackson, Kennard, Stanley Johnson and Drummond. There’s ball-handling, defense, shooting, as well as some pick-and-roll possibilities. Another option might be Pachulia instead of Drummond. That’s the best mix I could come up with, but that seems to be a consistent group that can score and defend fairly well. It might only be used for shorter stints, but it has the balance that just might work.
Q: Do you think the Pistons will accept less-than-value on guys like Reggie Jackson to attempt to create cap space? I'm not sure they can, but if the opportunity presented itself... — @ElGatoPolloLoco
A: I don’t know whether they can. They might be able to do an imbalanced trade to get a little bit farther from the tax line, but they can’t do very much, outside of another team taking one of the undesirable contracts off their hands — which likely would require giving up a first-round pick or a young player like Kennard or Khyri Thomas.
The lean seems to be to just let the contracts expire and maybe deal a little this summer to see if they can trade one of the contracts like Jackson, Jon Leuer or Langston Galloway, a little earlier, if possible.