Beard: Changes likely for flawed Pistons; question is, how dramatic?
Detroit — Trade Blake Griffin. Trade Andre Drummond. Trade Reggie Jackson, they say.
Heck, trade the Pistons’ mascot, Hooper.
Trade everybody for first-round picks and vaporize the roster.
Play the young guys — Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya and Christian Wood — and see what happens. Actually, trade them, too, if the return package is good enough.
The more vocal portion of the Pistons’ fan base is beyond frustrated — and rightfully so. Through 30 games, the Pistons are 11-19, a season-worst eight games below .500. And even before Saturday’s 119-107 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the vitriol had been reverberating throughout sports-talk radio, social media and casual conversations.
Any optimism for this season has been muted by injuries, with Griffin missing half the season because of knee issues; Jackson has missed 28 games and Derrick Rose six. Only Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway have played in all 30 games.
On one hand, the Pistons are in 11th place in the East, but on the other, they’re two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. This isn’t a roster — with a payroll of $132 million — that should be content with chasing a No. 8 seed. Realistically, the goals should be higher and the long-term direction should be clearer, based on the experienced playing rotation and the 11 years of languishing of mediocrity without a win in a playoff game.
Change is coming. It just might not be the sweeping change that some desire — and maybe not as swiftly as they want. The reality of the NBA trade market and the value placed on some of the Pistons’ top players don’t match up in a way that’ll make it a rapid rebuild.
The fallacy is that the Pistons can just put a garage sale sign out and teams will drop down draft picks like Monopoly money, ready to make a deal. The same fans who grouse about Griffin, detest Drummond and joke about Jackson want to get maximum value in a trade for players they readily admit are flawed.
The reality is that opposing general managers see the same faults and will send low-ball offers — if there are any offers at all. Drummond and Jackson have been rumored to be available via trade in recent years, with underwhelming trade packages in return. Those were in years that they were highly productive. Jackson has had a back injury for most of this season, so even with his expiring contract for $18.1 million, his trade value is depressed.
The same goes for Griffin. When the Pistons traded for the six-time All-Star in January 2018, the implicit understanding was that his contract would be hard to move. After an All-NBA season last year, Griffin’s trade value was its highest, but the Pistons’ outlook was for another playoff appearance, not an immediate overhaul.
Griffin’s contract has two more years and $75 million — equally yoked with his injury history — making him highly unlikely to trade before the Feb. 6 deadline, unless team owner Tom Gores is willing to part with his stars for fractions of their value, simply to remake the roster.
No max for Drummond?
Drummond may have the highest value of the three, but his situation is more complex. He has a player option for $28.8 million next year, and last summer, he indicated that he would be open to pursuing free agency for the first time and seeing what his value is on the open market.
What seems clear is that the Pistons are not going to offer Drummond a max contract extension. If Gores were going to do that, he likely already would have done it. The path forward seems to be more of trying to determine the value on what Drummond is this year and at what level he impacts winning and then negotiating from there.
While some quickly point out that Drummond is more of a tyrannosaur in the modern era of versatile, 3-point-shooting centers, they suppose another team will pay a premium in draft capital or a good player in a trade. If a team hasn’t dealt for him in recent years and he’s opting out after this year, why would they give anything of value for a half-year rental?
Consider this: There’s potential that Drummond could opt-in for next year and increase his value as an extended rental. If he’s traded, that team would retain his Bird rights and could have more time to decide whether he’s a longer-term fit.
For Drummond and his agent, Jeff Schwartz, the question comes down to whether there is a lucrative, long-term deal out there — with the Pistons or with another team. There could be a team that would sign him to a big deal this summer and the Pistons certainly don’t want to have Drummond leave and they get nothing in return.
Pursuing a trade before the deadline seems likely but the sticking point would be what potential value they could extract from a team. The Dallas Mavericks have been mentioned as an option and other potential contenders, such as the Portland Trail Blazers or Boston Celtics, could be possibilities.
Langston Galloway, who has an expiring contract for $7.3 million, is having his best season, posting career-highs of 11.3 points and 41 percent on 3-pointers. If the Pistons decide to revamp the roster, he could be a trade asset for a contending team, needing solid perimeter shooting and defense.
It's possible Galloway could garner a second-round or potentially a late-first-round pick if he continues to play well. Alternatively, the Pistons could choose to extend Galloway, but his salary could increase sharply if he hits the free-agent market.
Galloway’s veteran savvy and professional presence in the locker room could be appealing, whether they look to keep some of the roster intact or even if they decide to rebuild and groom their younger players.
It’s still too early to tell which direction the Pistons will choose for their long-term future and whether they could look to dismantle the core of the roster. Another few weeks of injury-depleted lineups and poor play could make the decision for them.
Change may not come quickly, but in one form or another, it’s likely to come.
Pistons vs. 76ers
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Pistons (11-19) have lost four straight games and have tumbled to 11th place in the East. The Sixers (21-10) have won the last four head-to-head meetings.