Senior adviser Ed Stefanski speaks for the first time since acquiring Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker before the trade deadline. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — For many NBA fans, the trade deadline is more like Christmas Day, full of promise and bright eyes, marveling at the shiny, new gifts coming in for being good all year.
In many cases, the prosperous teams such as the 76ers and Raptors got expensive new pieces, in Tobias Harris and Marc Gasol, respectively. Others, such as the Celtics, didn’t add anything new, awaiting the chance at a much bigger prize at the summer shopping season, if they saved up enough to get Anthony Davis.
In the Pistons’ case, they window-shopped in the premium section to add some needed pieces, but in the end, opted against going over their credit card limit by taking a significant risk on a trade with the Grizzlies for point guard Mike Conley.
With a reported asking price of Reggie Jackson, a first-round pick and either Luke Kennard or another first-round pick, the Pistons were prudent in their spending and stayed in the bargain bin.
In getting 21-year-olds Thon Maker, Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2021 second-round pick in two separate trades, for Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock, the Pistons got the equivalent of pajamas, a comfy sweater and a savings bond.
It’s not quite a new name-brand outfit — but it’s a shrewd, cost-saving maneuver that saved them enough money to get another gift: guard Wayne Ellington.
Ellington, 31, was traded this week from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, who released him. After Ellington clears waivers this weekend, he’ll become a free agent and can sign with any team. A league source confirmed to The Detroit News that the Pistons are closing in on an agreement with Ellington to join the team.
Yahoo's Chris Haynes reported that the Pistons would release Henry Ellenson in order to make room on the roster for Ellington.
In essence, the Pistons exchanged Bullock and Johnson for two younger players and a draft pick — plus a rental of a starting-caliber guard for a potential playoff run.
That’s not a massive Christmas haul — it’s more like that savings bond from your grandmother that will mature in a few years into something more valuable.
“We got Svi and a (second-round pick) and after this year, we don’t have a second until 2023 so we replenished that. We like this kid,” Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski said Friday. “The front office, the scouting department — myself included — we know he’s a prospect, we know he can flat-out shoot the basketball and we’re excited about seeing if we can develop him.
“A big consideration is that he’s on a rookie-friendly contract. We need friendly contracts; we’re not really friendly right now. That’s a start.”
Despite Pistons owner Tom Gores’ indication that they’d be willing to go into the luxury tax — willing, if the right player came along to necessitate it — the new front office, headed by Stefanski and assistants Malik Rose, Sachin Gupta, Pat Garrity and Andrew Loomis, acknowledges the financial mountain that they have to clean up before they can proceed back to holiday shopping in the expensive catalogs.
Until then, they’ll try to stick to the budget and make shrewd moves to help them stay competitive now and position themselves for the future, around Blake Griffin.
On Friday, the Pistons were 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot and 3 1/2 games from the sixth spot. With a good run — which, frankly, they haven’t shown since November — they could bump up from being first-round fodder for the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors, who are in the top two spots, and be in position to face the Indiana Pacers or Boston Celtics.
That’s the optimistic side.
Thon Maker had his introductory press conference after being traded to the Pistons. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
On the realistic side, they can get a feel for the next shopping season — summer free agency — when they will have a better sense of what their roster is. Stefanski will be able to purge some of the expiring contracts from the books and make room for more reasonable options.
It might not be what fans want to hear, but it’s a more reasonable option than spending the entire year paying off the debts they’ve built up from reckless holiday spending.
Gores and Stefanski remain firmly planted in the idea that they won’t tank and that they’ll do what they can to make the playoffs.
It’s not a shiny new piece like Mike Conley, Bradley Beal or Kemba Walker, but they’re modest gifts at the deadline are more reasonable.
That’s something for the present — and for the future.