The Pistons Need A Change, But What Can They Do?
Following a loss to the Spurs that dropped the Pistons to 17-21, the Detroit Pistons season is on the verge of coming totally undone. Not only is their record pitiful, and getting more pitiful by the day, but most of the numbers suggest that this really is who they are. Per 100 possessions they have the 23rd net rating in the NBA at -2.4. Coming to that sad number with the 23rd ranked offensive efficiency and the 13th best defensive efficiency.
The only thing keeping them from the total abyss is the brilliance of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. The impact of Griffin is obvious, 25.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game all on good efficiency and an absurd usage rate. Meanwhile Drummond props up the rest of his roster with his elite rebounding, the Pistons have bounced between the last couple of spots in the NBA in TS% and their defense isn’t as good as it looks. But Drummond’s abilities ensure the Pistons consistently get more shots up than their opponents and the threat of his offensive rebounding makes the Pistons one of the best transition defenses in the NBA yet again.
With all that said, lets do a breakdown of the Pistons options for getting some wins, going from least radical to most radical.
We are going to cover all the bases, just to do the due diligence and because sometimes unexpected things happen. That said, there’s a couple of things that are not really going to happen barring a severe change of heart in the organization.
They are not going to totally blow it up and tank: Every indication is that they have no interest in this. They may continue to lose and end up unintentionally tanking regardless, but they are not going to trade everyone and start over. Tom Gores has no interest in it and neither do the people he hired to direct the team.
That includes Blake Griffin: Same reasons as above. Blake Griffin isn’t going anywhere. I’d also say that Andre Drummond is unlikely to be traded for the same reason but there’s a better chance he gets traded than Griffin.
No trade proposals here are finished: Basically, when I give a trade idea I’m just trying to give an idea as to what a certain move could look like and that, on the surface, make some sense. But don’t go dissecting “yeah I’m not sure why that team would take that.” I’m not saying they would, its just hypothetical.
Option 1: Do nothing. Stay the course.
As Dwane Casey said after the Spurs loss, it takes time to build things and that’s what this is. That logic stinks but it is still there. The real logic behind this is that there isn’t really a good option for the Pistons to improve the roster without giving up future assets.
If the Pistons trade Reggie Jackson for instance, they are almost certainly not getting back a starting caliber point guard (or any other position), and will likely cost them an extra asset. So as much as they may need to improve the point guard spot, trading Reggie Jackson will only make them worse at the spot and it will cost them something to do.
This off-season it may make more sense to make these changes. Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, Henry Ellenson, and Stanley Johnson are all free agents after this season. Langston Galloway, Jon Leuer, and Reggie Jackson will all be entering the last season of their contracts. It will be much easier to convince a team to take on one of those guys for one season. For instance, if the Suns don’t find a point guard again, would they be willing to take on Reggie Jackson for nothing? Would the Kings mind adding Langston Galloway for one season? Once again, in this situation we are seeing the Pistons give them up for nothing. Like a super conditional pick that won’t ever convey and/or non-guaranteed deals.
There is at least some hope for this season here too. The new starting lineup, with Bruce Brown, has been effective. This is the first time all season that the Pistons starters have been consistently positive over any stretch of games which is a start. The problem has been the bench falling apart every time they see the floor. The hope then is that Ish Smith comes back sooner rather than later, (he’s at least a couple of weeks away yet as far as I know) the new starting lineup sticks, Smith stabilizes the bench, and the Pistons turn the season around.
Option 2: No roster changes but changes of style/roles/play:
The main argument for this is the same as the last point. With the Pistons combination of bad contracts, lack of assets, and no cap space makes it very hard for them to make a meaningful change now.
So the basic idea is to look inward and find ways to better utilize what they have on hand. Using Reggie Jackson in the pick and roll with Reggie Jackson, not having Andre Drummond create huge amounts of the offense, putting more emphasis on generating corner 3s, trying not to have a scheme that allows everyone into the paint at will, stagger Drummond and Griffin’s minutes, stop playing Jose Calderon, etc.
Most people agree that this roster should be better than it has been so in theory this could still work. That said, this coaching staff has not, in the past or this season, has not shown much ability to do these things.
Make a minor move:
As stated before, the Pistons don’t have many good options as far as a big trade, but they can maybe swing a smaller deal in order to maybe make the bump they need to get going the right direction. The most likely look here would be waving the white flag on Stanley Johnson and/or Henry Ellenson, perhaps also Khyri Thomas, for a more veteran wing player. Basically find a team who wants to take a shot on one of them and has a veteran on an expiring contract. For instance, the Pelicans have always liked Johnson and especially if they wave the white flag on Anthony Davis they would have interest on young guys with upside. So maybe you can swap Johnson for Darius Miller or maybe get the Knicks to take a flyer on Stanley for Courtney Lee.
The idea would basically be that Stanley has some value to teams not really trying to win now but his time with the Pistons is up. There’s a good chance they let him walk this Summer anyways, so trade him for a better rotation guy for this season and move on.
Giving up on Stanley would be painful beyond just the fact that so many of us still want to believe in him. Johnson does fill a gaping hole on this team as a big wing defender, and given their salary cap situation they should be hesitant to trade any player they have control over. Stanley may be imperfect but I’d probably rather have him in the rotation on the cheap than go bargain bin shopping for veterans with nothing left in the tank.
Still, especially if the Pistons have already decided they are ready to move on from Johnson, it makes sense, and they may be able to get a capable, and better fitting, wing player in return. It would take the right team, one who thinks Johnson could be something, but it’s possible. This could also include trading Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson, or possibly even Reggie Bullock.
Major trade While Keeping the Big Boys:
Basically, keeping Drummond and Griffin but making a big splash other places. This will almost certainly result in the Pistons giving up future assets. Basically going big-game hunting. I’m not even going to pretend to know what the Pistons could do here, any major star who becomes available, Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis, or anyone else, will see the Pistons get out-bid by other teams. But, it is a possibility.
The other option under this category is making major shakeups without going star-hutning but still making a significant change to the roster this season. So for instance, trading Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, and Stanley Johnson for DJ Augustine, Terrence Ross, and some extra salary filler. (the Magic have a couple different options there but it can be whatever)
It costs Kennard and Stanley to get out of Jackson’s contract, but the Pistons get back Augustine who is imperfect but a better fit with the role Casey is having his point guards play + Terrence Ross who can provide more shooting at the other wing spot next to Bullock. With Augustine, Bullock, and Ross on the wings the Pistons are suddenly flush with shooting around Griffin and Drummond. Meanwhile the Magic finally get the starting point-guard they’ve wanted for so long, get to take a flyer on Stanley Johnson, and Luke Kennard.
What the long-term plan here is would depend heavily on the deal in place. In the above scenario it would be a huge risk, both Ross and Bullock are unrestricted free agents after this season which could easily leave the Pistons in a very bad spot for the future, but they will have bird-rights to keep them if they want to pay them and without Jackson they will have a little extra wiggle-room against the luxury tax.
Ideally it would be nice to get more long-term security in the wings with this sort of move, but that sort of risk may be what is needed for the Pistons.
Total re-tooling around Blake Griffin:
Basically trading Andre Drummond + potentially others but Drummond is the focus here. This is also their best chance to actually go big game hunting as well. Drummond is, unquestionably, the Pistons best big-name trade chip. For all the bashing of Drummond, each time he’s rumored to be on the market everyone suddenly stops hating him so much. Drummond may be imperfect, but he’s still an all-star under contract for several years who is just entering his prime, if he is fully on the block there will be suitors.
There’s a couple of options here, on one hand they could try and swap Drummond for another star that (hopefully) fits a little bit better with Blake Griffin, or try to swap him with a group of younger guys who you hope can grow into a really good surrounding cast.
In the first category, what if the Celtics have decided that Al Horford is getting too old and rickety for their liking and want to finally nail their constant issues with interior presence? Boston would suffer, at least, some general cohesion on both ends. Horford’s greatest skill is his mutil-skilled morphing and ability to fit into whatever role they want. That said, Drummond may raise the ceiling of the squad, he’s younger and more durable, would totally solve all the issues they have with interior presence, Brad Stevens won’t ask him to post up, and they would even shed a little bit of salary as well.
For the Pistons, Horford would be a risk, as stated before he is older, slightly more expensive, and far less Durable than Drummond. But his jack of all trades game and attention to detail would mesh great with Blake Griffin and would cover a lot of other holes on the current roster that Drummond doesn’t. A straight swap for the two players would work though I’d guess other pieces would be involved. You could also paint a similar picture with CJ McCollum potentially.
An interesting option for the second one is if the Lakers or Knicks start to get antsy about coming up antsy in free agency next Summer and swing for Drummond instead. The Mavericks could also be an option here.
Regardless of what the final trade might look like, it would basically be trading Drummond for a player, or group of players, who theoretically fit better with Griffin and trying to win like that.
The one-year tank.
If the Pistons keep losing this might be the case unintentionally but whatever.
Basically, decide this season is a loss, have Griffin and Drummond develop nagging injuries, trade away anyone with value (Bullock, Ish, Stanley, maybe Galloway) and play the young guys a ton on your way to a top 5 pick before coming back next season to try again after hopefully unloading some of the bad contracts over the Summer.
One outlandish but semi interesting thing I’ve thought of would be some sort of swap of Blake Griffin and John Wall. It’d be a mess of a trade cause of Wall’s contract (currently only like $18mill but about to be way more) but you trade Griffin for Wall, tank out the rest of this season, and essentially try and re-create the 2015 team but with a angry John Wall instead of Reggie Jackson.
Blow it up:
Once again, this is almost certainly not happening, but lets entertain it for a moment. First you find trades for Griffin and Drummond. Both will have value to the right teams, but the size of their contracts will result in any trade being tricky so moving them for maximum value is the first priority. If that means that you end up stuck with Reggie Jackson on a terrible rebuilding team then so be it. Reggie Bullock and Ish Smith are also certainly traded here as well.
The only real question is whether Stanley Johnson stays through a blow-up. I’d lean towards keeping him, and then playing him a ton as a last gasp to make sure he isn’t going to put it together, but he may leave as well.
Then you go through the rest of the season starting Bruce Brown at point guard, Luke Kennard and Khyri Thomas on the wing, Stanley Johnson (or Henry Ellenson if he is still here) at power forward, and hopefully you got back a young(ish) center back in one of these trades to start there. The Pistons will be terrible for at least a couple of seasons, likely more, but that’s how it is when you rebuild.
Which of these is most likely?
A lot will depend on the coming weeks. The organization wants to make the playoffs this season there is no question about that. That said, if they keep losing they may still end up being sellers, at least on a small scale (once again I’d be shocked if Griffin or Drummond is moved) just because of the reality of their situation. If they manage to claw their way at least to being in the mix at the back-end of the playoffs my guess is they will try to find a big splash deal but fail to find one and end up flipping Stanley Johnson for whatever they can.
What would be your preferred action?
Something close to the above. I hope they have their ears to the ground, as much as we can talk about how no team will make some stupid trade it certainly happens. Maybe someone gets injured and some team gets desperate. My main hope, and worry, is about the Pistons not becoming desperate. The worst thing they could do would be to sacrifice future assets for minimal guys that may help them make the playoffs this season. With their salary cap situation, their best chance of success with Blake Griffin is probably to wait out this season, and then re-tool as you can while developing internally and making shrewd moves for under-valued guys. That said, they shouldn’t be resigned to this fate, keep your ears up for any chance to step into a team desperate for anything the Pistons may need. If a team is willing to give up a first for Reggie Bullock, go for it. If someone really wants Ish Smith, go for it. If the Wizards love Luke Kennard and were willing to entertain a deal for Bradley Beal centered around him, go for it.