After starting the season 14-6 and looking as though they could be a dark horse Eastern Conference contender, the Detroit Pistons now sit at a mediocre 22-24 and are reeling into the All-Star break. They currently sit outside the playoff picture as the ninth seed and will be looking to find a way to get back into things after the break. For coach/president Stan Van Gundy, this will be a heavy task. Much like their hockey arena roommates, the Pistons have stifled themselves with bad contracts that have not made a solid return. The deals for players like Langston Galloway ($21 million for three years), Ish Smith ($12 million for two years), Boban Marjanovic ($14 million over two years) and Jon Leuer ($30 million over three years) are going to handicap Detroit’s ability to make many beneficial moves in the near future. Even if they were able to move one of these contracts at the trade deadline, it would certainly cost you a key young player to get any valuable players back. The Pistons are stuck in the NBA’s rock and hard place trap and it will take some cunning moves to get out from underneath this mess. Luckily, I have some insightful suggestions that will help Detroit get back on its feet.
Step One: Liquidize Some Of These Bad Contracts
The first step that needs to be taken is to attempt to get any of these contracts that can be moved off the books moved. Unfortunately, most of these deals will be darn-near unmovable. But getting one, or even if were lucky to get two, out the door will help provide some immediate relief. The focus should be to move one of the two bad three year deals left (Leuer and Galloway). Finding a team to dump their salaries to, like Chicago or Atlanta, would be key to this operation. If you can move one of your longer deals for a shorter team contract, that would be best. A move like this would likely cost the Pistons a draft pick but it would be worth it as long as they don’t give away too much future potential.
Potential Trade 1:
Bobby Portis for Langston Galloway and a 2019 lottery protected first round selection
Potential Trade 2:
Ersan Ilyasova for Langston Galloway and a 2018 second round selection
A move like this would free up more cap in the short term and could be used to sign players that can actually help the team out. The key would be to not give away too much draft capital in a trade like this but if executed correctly would be the first step in a process of fixing the Pistons.
Step Two: Figure Out What You Want From Stanley Johnson or Move On
The second selection of the Detroit-Van Gundy era (and the first taken in the first round) was Stanley Johnson. The 2015 lottery selection has not quite lived up to the hype that he incurred when he was drafted. He has only averaged 6.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG on 36% FGP and 76% FTP for his young career. But, what is left out of those numbers are his minutes totals. He has averaged only 21.6 minutes per game in his career and amassed 29 career starts (22 of which came this season). Johnson has been severely held down during his time in Detroit and has never truly got the time to blossom here. Now, it can be said that he is not much a stats guy and most of his value is in his on-ball defense. That much is true. However, when you are only out there for less than 22 minutes per contest and have only been able to start 16% of your games, how much can you really show? It is not all on Van Gundy, Johnson has been inconsistent at times and isn’t worthy of an automatic start quite yet. But, if you are going to keep your 21 years old top eight selection on the bench in favor of lesser veteran players, it signals to me that there is a problem between these two. No public feud has ever been reported that would indicate that there is genuine animosity in the Pistons locker room but something is up, and the fans know it. This is not necessarily a problem, sometimes picks do not work out, it happens and is part of the draft. But, if SVG were to just come to terms with how he feels about Johnson and stick to it that would be best for the team. If Van Gundy still likes the potential that Johnson brings to the team then he needs to commit to seeing what Johnson is made out of. If Van Gundy no longer likes what he sees in Johnson and has no interest in committing to him as a franchise level player than he needs to move him while he still has value. Either way, the Pistons are best off if they can get something from Johnson, whether it is his performance on the court or in a trade return.
Step Three: Move Avery Bradley For Whatever You Can at The Deadline
In what looked like a blockbuster deal for Detroit in the offseason, the Avery Bradley and 2019 second round pick for Marcus Morris swap has begun to lose its luster. Bradley started off the season looking like the 3-and-D player that helped elevate the Celtics but has fallen off recently. A lot of this has had to do with the loss of Reggie Jackson. Bradley, in his absence, as assumed a lot of the offensive responsibilities and has fallen flat. With his performance this season, it hardly seems worth it for Detroit to offer him the massive contract he is going to assumedly want this summer. The Pistons have their shooting guard of the future in Luke Kennard and are best off giving him more playing time to accelerate his development. Detroit needs to find a trade partner that is in the win-now camp and thinks Bradley would push them over the edge. The hard part of this is, a lot of those teams (like Cleveland and San Antonio) are strapped financially and a deal would be hard to maneuver. Either way, if the Pistons can swap Bradley for any sort of a return, it would be the most worthwhile.
Potential Trade 1:
Jabari Parker for Avery Bradley and a 2018 first round selection
Step Four: Be as Competitive as Possible Until Reggie’s Return
As stated earlier, one of the Piston’s biggest problems this season has been playing without Jackson. When healthy, he is the key cog in the offense that allows the entire SVG system to work. His ability to pick and roll with Drummond is a large part of the offense and Detroit has had a hard time replacing Jackson since his ankle injury. This will sound odd because it hasn’t happened lately, but if Detroit can somehow keep their heads above water until Jackson can come back it will come a long way in keeping their postseason hopes alive. Now, this is just coming off a stretch where the Pistons have lost six games in twelve days but I have faith they can turn it around. Every team goes through stretches like this during the season and Detroit is no different. They just need to take some time and analyze what needs to change and how to get better. This is why Van Gundy gets paid the big bucks and he will need to find a way to keep things positive. The positive for the Pistons is even through this losing streak, they are only two games back of the Bucks and 76ers for the seventh and eighth spots in the East and they have a two game advantage over the Knicks, who are currently in the tenth spot. While they had bigger lead then this, they are still in a decent spot to get back into the playoff picture and they should be able to once they gets some wins back on their belt.
Step Five: Bring Back a Healthy Reggie, Get Back on Track
While Jackson is not a franchise level talent, his return to the lineup would be considerably significant to the overall play to the Pistons. His return would force inferior players like Smith and Buycks back to the bench and would balance the team out. The key to this transition though is to make sure he is, if not fully healthy, in a spot where he won’t risk re-injury. Now, this is hard to predict as injuries happen without rhyme or reason, but the training staff and Jackson need to be on the same page about his progress. If they all think Jackson can come back and be productive, than there should be no problems having him back. His impact on the offense and defense will eradicate the poor Pistons play and is the last step in getting Detroit back into the playoff picture.
If these steps are not enough to bring the Pistons back, maybe it would be wise to make radical changes at the trade deadline?
Either way, we will see what happens with this team in the comings weeks. Let’s hope for playoff Pistons basketball in the inaugural season in the Pizza Palace.