Pistons beef up frontcourt by sending Bynum to Boston for Joel Anthony

The Pistons traded from their point guard surplus to help fill a void in their frontcourt, getting veteran Joel Anthony from Boston for Will Bynum.
Ned Dishman (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ORLANDO - When Stan Van Gundy shopped for a backup big man in free agency, he settled on Aaron Gray because he wanted somebody he could trust in two ways: to play or not to play.

"“You need a guy that you’'re comfortable putting out there for major minutes as a backup and a guy with the character to be able to stay ready even if he’s not getting those minutes every night,” he said at the time. “It'’s hard to find that combination. You can find guys whose attitude will be fine but either aren'’t good enough or professional enough to keep themselves ready. Or you can find the guys who are good enough but they’re going to be guys who don’t handle that role well.”"

" “Exact same thing,"” Van Gundy said Friday after acquiring Joel Anthony from Boston for Will Bynum. “I think we get a lot with Joel that we had hoped to get with Aaron.”

The Pistons made the deal Friday in large measure because of the uncertainty over Gray’s status. He suffered a “cardiac episode” during a late-August workout and is awaiting another round of tests.

The Pistons might have been a little more willing to wait on those tests if not for the complicating factor of Greg Monroe’s two-game NBA suspension that makes him unavailable for games at Denver and Minnesota to open the season.

“The decision that we needed to beef up our front line was the driving force behind it,” Pistons general manager Jeff Bower said. “Joel is a player that we have familiarity with that we feel can and will be able to do what he does best. Those are needs for us.”

The 6-foot-9 Anthony is a seven-year veteran who stuck with the Miami Heat after going undrafted out of UNLV in 2007. He’'s a shot-blocker and capable defender and rebounder, a grinder all the way. He was swapped to Boston at mid-season last year in a move designed to lower Miami'’s luxury tax bill. At times during his Miami years--even during the LeBron James title-chasing era--Anthony played a significant role, starting 51 games as recently as the 2011-12 season.

"“He'’s a defender. That’s what Joel is. He’'s a guy who can block shots and protect the rim,"” Van Gundy said. “"He competes hard, he knows his role, he'’s a great teammate and great person, a high-character guy, and he’'s a guy who’s played big minutes in big games. The first year that LeBron’'s group in Miami went to the Finals, he played 27 minutes a game in the playoffs and then when they won their championship the following year, he played 19 minutes a game in the playoffs."

"We'’re getting a physical, experienced player who has a lot of intangibles and a lot of basketball savvy and strength to help our front line,"” Bower said.

Getting Anthony in trade will cut in half the tough decisions facing the Pistons before rosters must be cut to 15 by 5 p.m. Oct. 27. The Pistons went to training camp with 16 guaranteed contracts and this trade doesn’'t change that. But if they had felt they needed to keep camp invitee Hasheem Thabeet to plug the hole in their frontcourt – especially for those first two games – then they were somehow going to have to rid themselves of not one but two guaranteed contracts.

And Bynum might have been vulnerable in that case. When Van Gundy made public his intention to bring in a veteran point guard before free agency opened on July 1, it seemed an admission that the new administration viewed Bynum as more of a No. 3 point guard than a backup who’d be counted on for a regular turn in the rotation. When the Pistons were able to get D.J. Augustin in free agency – a player Van Gundy later would say he believed to be out of their reach until the point guard market cooled – Bynum faced an uphill battle to make the rotation.

That fleeting chance evaporated when he strained a hamstring muscle in the first hour of training camp and only returned to practice this week. He had yet to appear in a preseason game. And the only draft choice of the Van Gundy era, Spencer Dinwiddie, appears close to getting full medical clearance after participating in full-court, five-on-five basketball for the first time this week since suffering an ACL tear last January.

At 6-foot-6 and characterized by Van Gundy as a “pass-first point guard who can shoot,” Dinwiddie offers size and stylistic differences at the point over the three veterans who came to camp – Augustin, Bynum and incumbent starter Brandon Jennings, who through four preseason games has accumulated 30 assists against just five turnovers. Coupled with Augustin'’s elevated play in Wednesday’'s win at Charlotte, Van Gundy and Bower clearly felt comfortable with their options at point guard without Bynum.

“"The play of Brandon and D.J. has been a part of this,”" Bower said. "“The emergence and the progress that Spencer has shown throughout the summer and into training camp were all factors. In order to fill one need, you have to have something of value to help you do that. Spencer is different, absolutely, just from a size and length factor. Experience is an area he'’s going to gain day by day and nothing will replace that until he gets there, but we like Spencer'’s future. At the same time, we’re grateful for everything that Will provided the organization over his years.”"

His chemistry with Andre Drummond in pick-and-roll plays was Bynum'’s last best hope of creating a niche for himself under a new administration. But Augustin has already shown the same potential connection blossoming and Jennings has tossed a handful of lobs to Drummond already this preseason. So Will Bynum’'s last Pistons assist, as it turns out, was preventing them from being dangerously shorthanded in their frontcourt to open the Van Gundy era by fetching a quality veteran backup in return.