How Low Will Detroit Go Before Making a Move?


It has been a frustrating start to the season for many Pistons fans.  Injuries compound unease as over a quarter of the season has already passed.  We have only seen Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson play 17 games combined and none together.  Andre Drummond has recently missed games with avocado-related ailments.  Derrick Rose, the prized off season addition to the team, has dealt with nagging injuries as the season has progressed.  While December has yielded an average 5-5 slate so far, being a combined 0-8 against Charlotte, Chicago and Washington has pushed some fans to want the team blown up.

It is easy for fans to say they want to see trades and start a tanking project when it is not their decisions to make.  Many more things go into these decisions than just the contracts on the table.  Attracting fans to a new arena is a struggle for many places and Tom Gores has definitely experienced struggles bringing people to Little Caesar’s Arena so far.  Moving on from your only stars in a decade will not help that struggle.

But the focus of this study is much narrower.  It needs to be acknowledged that the value of your players is rarely as high as you think it is.  If you are selling on them, other organizations will know that too and will have also watched the Pistons this season.  Assessing the actual rumored returns for the three most common players put through the trade machine is eye-opening in terms of determining if a tear down is actually palatable.  Usually Reggie Jackson would be on this list, but given his current health situation, it is even harder to determine a value.  We will start with the man playing in what is likely a contract year.

Forget About Dre

Drummond has been the most consistent force for the Pistons this season, carrying the team in Griffin’s absence.  The big man can opt out of his current contract at seasons end and is reportedly looking for a max contract.  The prospect of paying a traditional center north of $30 million annually is daunting as is losing the former All-NBA player for nothing, so obviously the trade market will be gauged.  Earlier in the season, Charlotte was suggested as a potential destination since they are exceeding early season expectations and could look to give him the max.

The irony of maxing Drummond after letting face of the franchise walk without offering him the same is not even the biggest issue with this notion. Reportedly, the return would be in the range of Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a possible future second-round pick.  This does the Pistons little good in a rebound as they would be tied to salary longer with relatively no youth in return to build around.

Following the loss to the Mavericks in Mexico City, reports surfaced that the Mavericks are in the market for a traditional big man to play next to Kristaps Porzingis.  To make the salaries match, it would take something along the lines of Tim Hardaway, Jr., Dwight Powell and the Mavs throwing in a couple of future second round picks.  Dallas cannot send any 1st rounders, as those are already committed to the New York Knicks.  Powell is an intriguing big on a controlled contract and Hardaway is a former Michigan Wolverine who’s shooting well for the surprising Mavericks.  Unfortunately for fans thinking they would get the world for the best rounder in the league, this may be the best possible return for Drummond in today’s landscape.

Blake Griffin, Looking in the Mirror

The elephant in the room is Blake Griffin and his health this season.  Last season, Griffin was a revelation for the team and the biggest reason for the return to the playoffs.  This season, he has struggled out of the gate with injuries.  Even when he has been able to play, he’s looked like a shell of his former self.  Given this, it should come as no surprise that his trade value has dropped significantly.  It was already relatively low when the Pistons obtained him given his injury history and monster contract.  While there are now only three years remaining on that contract, they come with cap hits of $34.4 million, $36.8 million and $38.96 million.

To make this work for the teams, large contracts would have to come back.  The best — and therefore least likely — being floated is Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart for Griffin.  This would keep the Pistons in their current place while adding a wing who fits the roster well as well as a point guard who embodies the “Detroit vs. Everybody” mentality.  This move does not make as much sense for Boston.  Hayward is close with Brad Stevens.  While he has been injured recently, it is not to the extent of Griffin.  Furthermore, they know how he works with the team already and it has proven successful.  Smart is the heart and soul of that team’s identity, so again this seems unlikely.

More likely, the Pistons would be looking at getting something like a large expiring contract and some combination of picks and lower-tier prospects in return.  Maybe they can contact Portland if they are unable to make a deal with regards to Kevin Love.  This would see either Hassan Whiteside or Kent Bazemore coming back, which is less than ideal.  Maybe Phoenix, also connected to Love, would offer Kelly Oubre, Jr.  Some Piston fans think they can get multiple lottery picks back but realistically it would be an albatross contract.  Is this worth sending out a star who seems to want to be here?

All Roses

On a different note, this could be the time for the Pistons to strike on Derrick Rose.  He has been a revelation for this team and is posting per-36 minute numbers akin to his MVP season.  If Stefanski decides they will not be all in for the playoffs, he would be an attractive piece.  He has shown in back-to-back seasons he can be a spark for any bench.  Adding him to a contender could take them over the top.

Philadelphia is a rumored destination, which makes sense.  They are ready to win now and have shown the willingness to give up whatever it takes.  However, if the Pistons intend to stay in the playoff hunt for the long haul, Rose is key.  He is the rare free agent that chose Detroit and he has starred in his role here.  The fans love him.  If they are ever to draw a crowd building around fan favorites is a good first step.

Concluding the Study

I tend to be pro-tanking and against teams staying in the middle.   That being said, it is tough to argue that the information presented above makes a rebuild for the Pistons appealing.  This team has the potential to push into the 5-6 seed range and possibly steal a first round series.  Health is the biggest factor here.  This is not the ideal situation for most franchises.  It is, however, the logical step to rebuild the fan base instead of rebuilding the roster.

If Boston decides Blake is their answer, listen.  If someone goes all in on Derrick Rose as their last piece for a championship, listen.  But fans need to realize the value of their players on the market differs from the value in their hearts.   Until Blake Griffin can prove he is healthy, any sort of trades seem foolhardy at best.

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About Corey Rausch

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