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A tidy deadline for the Pistons, who filled needs & kept all options on the table

The trade that brought Mike Muscala and Danilo Gallinari to Detroit last month was more about what’s still coming this summer for the cap space it creates for the Pistons, but the deals that bring Simone Fontecchio and Quentin Grimes to town are all about Fontecchio and Grimes.

Put an asterisk on the end of that sentence. Actually, it’s about adding two young, in- or entering-their-prime players on extreme discount contracts that put barely a dent in the off-season cache of money the Pistons will take to the marketplace. In fact, the Pistons project to take more cap space into July – somewhere north of $60 million – than any other NBA franchise.

That was the delicate threading-the-needle maneuver Troy Weaver managed at this week’s NBA trade deadline. He and Pistons owner Tom Gores, as Gores made clear in late December, strongly believe they’ve got their young core in place. They’re also fully aware they need to supplement it at both ends of the roster – add more depth and complementary pieces around the edges, add more veteran presence and certainty at the top of it.

In Fontecchio and Grimes, the Pistons added the wing shooting to help compensate for the firepower traded away in the persons of Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks while also giving a major boost to the defensive profile of a team that Weaver is determined to make known for its defense.

“Lost shooting with Burks and Bogdanovic, so wanted to make sure we added that, but we wanted to improve our defense,” Weaver said. “I say that ad nauseum: We won’t be the Pistons until we defend.”

If the Pistons’ future nucleus before Wednesday consisted of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser, it now expands to eight names. For the Pistons to add them – plus tacking on future draft capital – for the price of expiring contracts is the living, breathing outcome of what Gores was signaling in late December when he talked of his conversations with Weaver and their shared vision for what came next.

“We all have been disappointed with what’s behind us,” Weaver said. “No doubt we needed change and we’ve done some of that, but extremely confident in what we have going forward. It’s been tough times, but you fight through it and we’ve done that. (Gores) has given us everything we need to be successful. Tremendous support, leadership and guidance through it all. He wanted to make sure we stayed on it.”

Indeed, the Pistons were the NBA’s most active team, executing four trades over a 24-hour period leading to Thursday afternoon’s trade-deadline buzzer. They’ll wind up netting three second-round picks, as well – trading one to Utah to get Fontecchio and getting four back from the three other deals.

Because the Pistons have a clearly identifiable young core now – and because that core is heavy on big men (Duren, Stewart) and guards (Cunningham, Ivey, Sasser) – it was imperative that they supplement them with wings, preferably ones that shoot well and defend assertively to go along with Thompson’s Swiss Army knife array of gifts. There isn’t a long list of players who offer both halves of the “3-and-D” equation – shooting and defense – and those who do are highly coveted. For the Pistons to get two such players, both still in the sweet spots of their careers and on desirable contracts, is a coup.

“We’re excited about adding Grimes. He fits the profile we need,” Weaver said. “Doesn’t need the ball, makes shots, defends at a high level, great teammate. He was a huge target for us.”

In vetting Marcus Sasser – Grimes’ backcourt partner for two seasons at Houston – ahead of the 2023 draft, Weaver said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson told him the two hardest workers he’d had were Grimes and Sasser. If you know Sampson and the demands he puts on players for effort and focus, that’s a gold-plated endorsement.

Of Fontecchio, who scored 32 points and hit 7 of 11 triples in two Utah games against the Pistons this season, Weaver said, “Versatile – his shooting, his toughness. The vigor he plays with. Second year in the NBA, 28, has a maturity about him that we like that we’ll miss with Bogdanovic that he’ll bring. A great team guy, shoots the ball at a very high level, complementary player.”

A 6-foot-8 wing in his prime who’s tough and knocks down nearly 40 percent of his 3-point shots, Fontecchio moves the needle now for the Pistons. And because he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer – which gives the Pistons a clear pathway to retaining him on a multi-year deal – it means he’ll almost certainly keep moving it for them into the foreseeable future.

Grimes started 66 games for the Knicks last season and shot .386 from the 3-point arc on a heavy volume – 5.7 attempts per game and two-thirds of his shots – but a combination of factors, including injury, limited his opportunities this season. That made him the most attractive trade chip the Knicks had to offer in order to supplement their Jalen Brunson-Julius Randle nucleus with veteran shooters for a playoff run.

In his second NBA season, the 28-year-old Fontecchio blossomed this season for Utah, which was 4-9 when it moved Fontecchio – who began the season on the fringe of the rotation, not playing in two of the first four games – into the starting lineup. Fontecchio brings averages of 8.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23 minutes a game while shooting .391 from the 3-point line on 4.7 attempts per game. As a starter, Fontecchio’s averages are 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 27.4 minutes.

Weaver also added two other young veterans in Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. from Minnesota and they come along with a 2030 second-round pick in the deal that sent Monte Morris to the Timberwolves. The Pistons could keep Brown by picking up his reasonably priced option for 2024-25 and he, too, fits as an athletic wing who knocks down threes. Both Milton and Brown were rotation regulars on playoff teams a year ago, Milton in Philadelphia and Brown with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Amid all of the chaos of deadline day, it might get lost that the Pistons – badly depleted by pending trades – won back-to-back games to launch a five-game Western road swing by knocking off surging Sacramento and then storming back from a 23-point deficit to win at Portland.

Jaden Ivey scored a career-high 37 to lead the charge at Sacramento, where the Pistons won without Cunningham, and then Jalen Duren went for 27 points and 22 boards while he, Ivey and Cunningham combined for 76 points at Portland. Sasser scored 35 off the bench in those games and Thompson did his usual assortment of stuff while shrugging off an ankle injury that looked grim in the moment at Sacramento. Stewart, the other charter member of the core, is another week or so away from return from his own ankle injury.

“If you watched the last two nights, you should feel good about what’s ahead for us and the young core,” Weaver said. “We’ll continue to fortify this group.”

They got that done this week, adding two more building blocks ideally suited to complementary roles, and all while maintaining the NBA’s most potent war chest to address top-of-the-roster additions in the coming months. Contenders who made their own tailored additions always win trade-deadline headlines. But nobody had a better deadline outcome for satisfying particular needs than the Pistons.