The Monday Drive: Pistons must settle on course of action as rumors emerge
Auburn Hills — Three people can see the same problem and have three different possible solutions. It’s not that any of them is wrong; it’s that they have differing opinions on how to resolve the same issue.
Looking at the Pistons’ current situation might bring about more suggestions.
At 22-29, the Pistons are in a bit of a purgatory, trying to decide whether they have enough wind in their sails to make a push toward the playoffs in the final 31 games. The other choices include taking an intentional freefall towards the high end of the lottery to get the best possible draft pick.
Another option is just playing out the season, trying for the playoffs without being emotionally crushed if they don’t make it. Most Pistons fans fall into one of those camps: Go all-in, tank or stand pat.
Pistons owner Tom Gores and senior adviser Ed Stefanski have made it clear that they have no intentions of tanking, so the big question is about the shorter term, where they can at least gather assets for their expiring contracts and maybe make shrewd deals to acquire more draft picks.
They’re not showing their hands but one indication is the rumor mill, where the Pistons reportedly are interested in big-name players such as the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol or Mike Conley, but also could be gauging the market on trading Reggie Bullock.
The latest salvo was Sunday, when RealGM.com reported that the Lakers were interested in dealing for Bullock, who is the Pistons’ best 3-point shooter, at 38 percent.
More than just the purgatory of making the playoffs or settling for the lottery, the Pistons also look to be playing both ends before Thursday’s trade deadline, trying to decide whether they will be buyers or sellers.
The wing position is one of their biggest challenges this season, as only Bullock and Kennard have produced near a consistent level. Trading Bullock would indicate they’re not likely to make the playoffs and have decided to gather assets and look toward next season.
It’s unclear what a potential Bullock trade would yield the Pistons in return, but a first-round pick would likely suit them well. Bullock is on the final year of his deal, making $2.5 million; he’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so if the Pistons can get anything of value for him, that would be a win.
The Monday Drive breaks down the five Pistons trade assets as the deadline approaches:
1. Blake Griffin
With his resurgent All-Star season, Griffin has answered the naysayers who thought his career was on the downturn. He has three years and about $110 million left on his contract after this season, which another team could take on, with some risk. He turns 30 next month and although he hasn’t been injured, he’s played a significant chunk of minutes this season. By all accounts, the Pistons aren’t even considering parting with Griffin; instead, they’re more likely to build around him, with the right pieces on the perimeter.
2. Reggie Bullock and Ish Smith
Shooting is at a premium in the trade market and while he’s hitting 38 percent in a relatively down season, he still could be a piece that other teams covet. His salary of $2.5 million makes him more valuable but he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer, so he’d likely only be attractive to playoff contenders looking to bolster their lineups.
Smith has been injured for most of the first half the season, which has impacted his trade value. Smith likely wouldn’t command a first-round pick but he seems to be more valuable to the Pistons than any other team because of his impact off the bench. If they slip into sell mode, they could just try to get a second-round pick and be happy with that. Smith has been pretty good in his three seasons in Detroit but it may be time to move on, if there’s a good return.
3. Luke Kennard
The Pistons’ young shooter has had an up-and-down second season, including an encouraging 28-point performance against the Sixers. Other teams would be interested but again, his value to the Pistons is probably greater than what he might get back in the trade market. With another year in coach Dwane Casey’s system, Kennard could make another step forward.
4. Future draft picks
After sending away their first-round pick in the Griffin deal, the Pistons now can trade their 2019 draft pick if they’d like, but not both the ’19 and ’20, or ’20 and ’21, at this point, because of the Ted Stepien rule. The Pistons seem intent on holding on to the pick, unless it’s a big trade that brings back significant value. They could package the ’19 and ’21 picks, but that likely would have to be a blockbuster trade, on the level of the Griffin trade.
5. Andre Drummond
Some fans have called for Drummond to be dealt, but now that he’s in the latter part of his contract, it’s easier to move. The problem is that most teams either have their star center already or have decided not to invest heavily — to the tune of two more years and $55.9 million. There might be a general manager who would bite on Drummond’s upside and his elite-level rebounding. The Pistons can pursue that and see what might be available.
Nuggets at Pistons
Tipoff: 7 Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Outlook: The Nuggets (37-15) are one of the league’s biggest surprises, tied with the Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference. They’ve won six straight and eight of 10 and boast All-Star big man Nikola Jokic (20.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists).