The Spillover Effect

Howard trade could boost trade market, dilute Eastern playoff field

Dwight Howard will no longer play in the same conference as the Pistons.
Christian Petersen (NBAE/Getty Images)
So … how does this affect the Pistons? The Dwight Howard trade – now that it has at last found a life form it’s able to inhabit … what does it mean for a Pistons team that over the summer added two players big enough, if perhaps not yet quite experienced enough, to bump and grind with the NBA’s best big man just in time to see him switch conferences?

We’ll get to that in a minute. First things first: How it affects the Pistons most immediately, perhaps, is the effect that the removal of the Howard bottleneck will have on the NBA trade pipeline.

There were many teams holding on to players and salary slots just waiting for the phone to ring, hoping some of their spare parts could be turned into better parts and maybe a free lottery ticket as well. Everybody envisioned the likelihood that Howard was going to wind up going to the Lakers and everybody understood there was almost no chance Orlando and Los Angeles could do the deal without bringing in at least a third party, and perhaps a fourth and a fifth.

GMs talking about trades they found moderately attractive were telling peers they’d get back to them – code: let’s see if we can do better by picking on the bones of the Orlando-Lakers trade. Now they can get back to them. The music has stopped. Everybody’s now scrambling for a chair.

The Pistons have had a pretty busy summer already. They traded Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette in a deal that also involved swapping a No. 1 pick for the ability to speed up their timetable by a full year. They drafted three rookies they believe have bright futures, 7-footer Andre Drummond – a player who comes to the NBA carrying many of the same dizzying superlatives and dire warnings as Howard did eight years ago – foremost among them. They signed 7-footer Slava Kravtsov as a free agent and feel that, at minimum, he’s going to be a high-quality backup center.

The Pistons suddenly have a frontcourt surplus. Beyond their three returning rotation players – budding star Greg Monroe, reliable Jason Maxiell and dynamo Jonas Jerebko – they’ve added the two 7-footers and have two stretch fours, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye, to scrap for whatever minutes are available for such a role. And at small forward, Maggette and 2011 draftee Kyle Singler give Lawrence Frank two viable options in addition to minutes-eating Tayshaun Prince at small forward.

The depth isn’t quite there in the backcourt, though. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey are the entrenched starters, but behind them are only Will Bynum, who was in and out of Frank’s rotation a year ago, and Kim English. As high on English’s future as the Pistons are, teams don’t generally pencil in 44th picks as rotation mainstays.

So it’s fair to guess, at least, that Joe Dumars wouldn’t mind converting some of his frontcourt excess into backcourt insurance. Given Frank’s preference for athletic, versatile perimeter defenders, a guard capable of defending both backcourt positions might be high on the wish list. Or maybe a veteran backup point guard with a playmaking bent who would allow Knight to spend some time off of the ball where his spot-up shooting ability could be more fully exploited.

Pursuing whatever deals the Pistons might find appealing becomes more possible in a post-Howard-trade world. It doesn’t mean a deal is imminent, of course, or that one will necessarily occur before camp opens in early October. But an obstacle was bulldozed with the completion of a deal whose anticipation had constipated the trade market.

As for what it means for the Pistons’ immediate prospects … hmmm. Unclear. Orlando was a better team than the Pistons with a fully engaged Dwight Howard in uniform. Now the Magic appear about as certain to be a 2013 lottery participant as anyone this side of Charlotte.

On the flip side, Philadelphia – which limped to the finish line last season and made the playoffs only because of Milwaukee’s similar collapse – now looks as complete as any Eastern Conference team outside of Miami and Boston. The Pistons played the Lakers once last year and won on a magical night at The Palace behind Stuckey’s 34 points.

But in a grind-it-out game, Andrew Bynum hung 30 points, 14 boards and three blocked shots on the Pistons. He’s a load. And if he stays healthy and engaged – and, the biggest “if” of all, if he stays in Philadelphia beyond this season, when his contract expires – then Philadelphia is a complementary move or two away from being a legitimate NBA title contender for the next several seasons.

If all of those Pistons young players – Stuckey, Jerebko, Monroe, Knight, Singler, Drummond, Kravtsov, English, et al – develop as anticipated and the Pistons add another helpful piece annually for the next two or three seasons, then when they are themselves ready to compete for titles it just might be Philadelphia, not Miami with Dwyane Wade that much closer to the end, that poses their biggest obstacle.

Of course, Bynum also comes with bad knees and a sometimes prickly personality that should make for a high combustibility potential paired with Doug Collins. So let’s see how it plays out before we project Philly into the conference finals.

All in all, not a bad deal for the Pistons. The league’s dominant big man is out of the conference, one team ahead of them in the playoff pecking order just went to the back of the line, and the trade pipeline that holds the potential to make them a more balanced team heading into the season has just been unplugged.