Pistons Mailbag - January 30, 2019

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

With eight days to go before the trade deadline, it’s no surprise what the hot topic of this week’s Pistons Mailbag is – trades, trades and more trades.

Bill (@Bill5456282): After one year, have you seen a greater talent than Blake Griffin in the last 30 years?

Langlois: Thirty years takes you back to 1989 and the Bad Boys, who won the NBA title the next two years and had three future Hall of Famers in the lineup. For individual brilliance, it’s pretty hard to top Isiah Thomas. Grant Hill was a first- or second-team All-NBA player for five years running with the Pistons, which arguably is the greatest five-year run in franchise history. Blake Griffin’s a great player, but Pistons history isn’t exactly bereft of great players.

Hytower (@CHytower): I love how Blake Griffin in playing, but it was a bad trade. He’s playing his best basketball right now. Is there a market for him?

Langlois: He’s one of three players in the league averaging 25 or more points, eight or more rebounds and five or more assists. The other two: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yeah, I’d say there’s a market for that. He’s played all but two games, neither missed due to injury. Of course there would be a market for him. There wouldn’t be many teams who’d have the combination of assets in concert with the motivation to add a player who comes with the salary commitment, but there’d be a market. The Pistons, by all indications, are unsure whether to buy or sell or stand pat at the trade deadline this season. Owner Tom Gores, speaking at Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee, said he has a “buyer’s mentality” and would exceed the luxury tax for the right player – presumably one who would be under team control for multiple seasons – but wasn’t straying from his previously stated philosophy of not imperiling the future by making a reckless trade. But one thing was crystal clear: There is every indication that they intend to build around Blake Griffin for the foreseeable future.

Zach (Sarasota, Fla.): Any chance the Pistons could do an Andre Drummond for Gordon Hayward swap? The Celtics need help rebounding and they have so many wings. Do you think they would be interested?

Langlois: In a vacuum, it’s reasonable. But the Celtics are likely putting their eggs in the Anthony Davis basket now and – unless Davis is traded before the Feb. 7 deadline – they won’t be making a move of that magnitude until they get their at-bat at Davis in July. It’s very unlikely they’d want to pair Drummond with Davis. Even though Davis is certainly capable of playing power forward, in today’s NBA he’s simply a more valuable player as a center. You have to believe the Celtics envision their future as Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and a trove of interchangeable parts at the three positions between them.

What Steve Said (@ThirdPrice): Buyers or Sellers? I’m on Team Sell.

Langlois: Team Stand Pat is the likeliest option. If they do something, it’s not very likely to be considered a major move. They might try to shore up their second unit, but they don’t have a lot to offer with their stash of second-round picks pretty well cleaned out. Forced to wager, I’d say they don’t do anything.

Tyler (@tthurmond04): Any chance the Pistons move Andre Drummond for some young, talented shooters like Malik Monk or Miles Bridges. If so, what are those chances?

Langlois: That depends 50 percent on Charlotte’s level of interest in loading up now and what it gauges as its future with Kemba Walker at the core. Walker is a pending free agent. He and Hornets management have expressed a desire to extend their partnership, so it’s fair to guess that Walker’s input on a move of that nature would be solicited. The jury’s out on Monk and, to some extent, on Bridges. How the Pistons value those players would shape their interest. If Charlotte is taking on Drummond’s contract, though, it almost certainly would mean shipping out one of its similarly sized deals – Nicholas Batum’s, most likely. And it’s unlikely Charlotte would be inclined to deal both of its last two lottery picks. Also, Tom Gores lumped Drummond in with Blake Griffin as what he considers the Pistons “core.” There remains no indication the Pistons are looking to move Drummond. I wouldn’t consider that an ironclad assurance that they wouldn’t trade him, but they’re not banging on doors looking to move him at any cost.

Drew Prince Music (@DPMCreates): Marc Gasol and Dennis Smith Jr. are the only names I’ve heard the Pistons mention. Can you speak on either of them more and what it would take for either of the two?

Langlois: To be clear, you haven’t heard the Pistons mention anyone. That’s tampering. You’ve read vague and unconfirmed reports that the Pistons have engaged at some level with the front offices of those players. I’d advise skepticism with all such reports. What it would take for Gasol and Smith should be two very different things. They’re at opposite ends of their careers and on very different contracts, not to mention one’s a center and the other a point guard. Gasol’s trade value is probably more certain. Smith’s remains more in the eye of the beholder. How this front office views Smith is anyone’s guess. It’s fair to guess that Ed Stefanski, running the Pistons front office, is an admirer of Gasol’s from their time spent in Memphis. Whether that makes the Pistons any more serious about trading for him remains to be seen. There’s little appeal in a roster with both Gasol and Andre Drummond – not to mention the salary-cap imbalance it would create – so there almost has to be a reciprocal move in store unless it’s a swap of one for the other.

Rudy (rudyjuly2): Would you move Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer to someone to dump salary and give up our No. 1 pick this year to do it?

Langlois: No. There’s one year left on both contracts. The Pistons have to treat No. 1 picks as the precious commodity they are given the substandard production they’ve gotten from recent No. 1 picks. They might feel urgency to add productive veterans while they have Blake Griffin, but dealing this year’s No.1 pick to create salary cap space – they’d maybe get to $25 million under the cap if both Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock leave as free agents, which would demand they reallocate some of that money to replace them – that would have them competing with many teams that figure to have space this summer seems a very risky and shortsighted strategy. Also, Jackson has more value by a long shot to the Pistons than anyone else simply because until his level of play rebounds – and Tuesday’s 25-point, five-assist, zero-turnover outing against Milwaukee was encouraging – he has very little trade value.

John: (@Yankeesboy26): Are the Pistons getting a new point guard for us to make the playoffs?

Langlois: If there were a point guard available in trade good enough to elevate the Pistons from three games out to a team considered a playoff lock, the cost would be astronomical. Pistons fans dissatisfied with the play of the team’s point guards seem to assume that any other player would be an upgrade or that any player who represents an upgrade would be readily available. That’s myopic. One of the most difficult things in the NBA to do is to upgrade at any position. If you have an average NBA starter – by definition, the No. 15 of 16 player at his position – then finding an above-average starter, a top 10 player, is very difficult. If you have a bunch of below-average starters, it’s easier – not easy, but easier – to upgrade to an average starter. Reggie Jackson was an above-average point guard in 2015-16 when the Pistons made the playoffs. He hasn’t been that since due to the injuries he’s suffered. But teams that have average or above-average starters aren’t handing them over. And it would take an above-average point guard to move the needle enough to take the Pistons from where they stand today to a slam-dunk playoff team with only 33 games remaining. Let’s use Eric Bledsoe as an example. I’d call him an above-average point guard – very similar to Jackson, pre-injuries – but not an elite point guard. You think Milwaukee is looking to give him away? Is there anything the Pistons could offer Milwaukee – anything that wouldn’t leave them with a gaping hole elsewhere on the roster – that would give the Bucks a second of pause to consider?

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): With Boston unable to trade for Anthony Davis without trading away Kyrie Irving, could or should the Pistons offer Andre Drummond for Irving? Then go get Marc Gasol, providing Memphis doesn’t do the deal without getting Drummond in return? Drummond’s not a good fit next to Blake Griffin. And if somehow the Pistons could get in on Davis?

Langlois: Hate to pull the thread that unravels your master plan, but let’s take this step by step. The Celtics’ blueprint doesn’t include trading Kyrie Irving so they can add Anthony Davis. (Yes, the Celtics cannot trade for Davis before July 1 due to collective bargaining stipulations about the nature of Irving and Davis’ contracts.) The blueprint involves pairing Davis with Irving. If they were to move Irving – and, again, that’s close to inconceivable – with the idea of trading for Davis now, it’s very unlikely, as I already detailed, that they’d want to pair Drummond with Davis. But let’s say the Celtics played along. After the Pistons traded Drummond to Boston, what could they possibly offer Memphis for Gasol, keeping in mind Memphis is intent on rebuilding (young players, draft picks) and the Pistons would need to send a similar amount of salary back to Memphis as they’d be receiving in Gasol’s $24 million? And then you still think they’d have the ammo to get involved in a trade for Davis? Your optimism deserves some sort of civic recognition.

Derrick (Shelby Twp., Mich.): I recently saw that the Knicks are trying to trade Trey Burke for a second-round pick. I don’t think Reggie Jackson is going to get any better and he’s not giving us much now, so I say make a move. Your thoughts?

Langlois: Burke’s a pending free agent. The Pistons have their 2019 second-round pick, but don’t have another until 2023. If you’re going to part with a second-rounder – one that right now would be in the top 10 of the second round, or right about where the draft still yields players who have a decent shot at carving out a productive NBA career – you’d like it to be for more than less than a half-season of a backup player. I’d pass. But you can make the case for it.

Dakoda (Hudsonville, Mich.): The Pistons could use a more efficient point guard who could score and play better defense than Reggie Jackson. Mike Conley is now available, but his contract is more than $30 million and Detroit might not have a lot of movable assets to get him. Should the Pistons consider making a big splash for a player of Blake Griffin or Conley’s status again, make a smaller deal for better role players or wait until 2020 to retool when big contracts come off the books. Those seem like our three options.

Langlois: I like Conley well enough, but I’d be leery of taking on a guy who’ll make $65 million over the next two seasons with his body type and dependence on quickness who’ll be 33 when that contract expires. And, again, what would the Pistons have to give up? Memphis wants young players and draft picks, one should assume. Luke Kennard and a No. 1 pick? Is that enough? It doesn’t come close to meeting cap parameters, so now you throw Jon Leuer and Langston Galloway’s contracts into the mix and because they’re not expiring, does that do it for Memphis? Without a No. 1 pick and Kennard, the Pistons are really, completely all in on the next two seasons. Does a Conley-Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond nucleus with needs on the wings move the needle enough? That’s a tough call.

Darrell (Detroit): Perhaps the Pistons should do themselves and Blake Griffin a favor by sending him back to Los Angeles as a Laker. The Pistons can trade Griffin and Henry Ellenson for Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Moritz Wagner and a first-round pick. Given Griffin’s age and the Pistons’ cap situation, it’s unlikely he can win a title in Detroit but could win one playing alongside LeBron. In addition to receiving young talent and future cap space, the Pistons will get a legitimate shot at landing the No. 1 pick to draft Zion Williamson.

Langlois: I doubt that’s something the Lakers would want to do at the trade deadline. They, like the Celtics, are focused on Anthony Davis. If they’re going to push that many chips to the center of the table by next Thursday, it would be for Davis. I doubt they’d pivot so abruptly to anyone else. As for the idea of landing the No.1 pick, the Pistons would remain very long shots to do so. So if that’s a central part of your motivation for dealing Griffin, that’s probably going to leave you crushingly disappointed.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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