Detroit Pistons mailbag: Talking through a Blake Griffin-Buddy Hield trade with Kings

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Pistons group workouts have concluded, and we’re creeping closer to the 2020 NBA draft, scheduled for Nov. 18. After a long offseason, the schedule should begin ramping up soon. 

This Pistons mailbag is filled with draft, free agency and trade analysis. Let’s get to it. 

How Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run gives Detroit Pistons rebuild a blueprint ]

Including Christian Wood, here are the top five free agents they might pursue if they want to be competitive next season. Listed in no particular order:

  • Christian Wood: The Pistons took a slight gamble when they stuck with Wood over veteran Joe Johnson after training camp last year. The gamble paid off, as Wood was their best player for much of the season. With around $30 million in cap space available, they should have plenty of money to bring him back. I’m curious to see how big of an outside offer he could get, and if there’s sign-and-trade potential. 
  • Fred VanVleet: The Toronto Raptors guard is the best point guard on the market and played under coach Dwane Casey during his first two seasons. The Pistons need a point guard, so the fit is obvious. His next deal could be expensive, considering his age (26) and skillset, as he’s a strong shooter and perimeter defender with championship experience. 
  • Montrezl Harrell: The Clippers big man is coming off of the best statistical season of his career, averaging 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. He’s one of the best energy players in the league, leading the NBA in defensive box-outs and charges drawn in 2019-20. He’s undersized for the position, and the Clippers’ second-round series against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets exposed his limitations as a defender. A good signing for the right price. 
  • Brandon Ingram: After coming off of a breakout season, the New Orleans Pelicans forward is due a massive raise. He’s one of the league’s better scorers and is only 23. It’s tough to see him leaving New Orleans this offseason, given he’s a restricted free agent and the Pelicans can match any offer thrown at him. But for the Pistons, it’s worth trying anyway. 
  • Danilo Gallinari: The veteran Oklahoma City Thunder forward would provide an offensive punch. But he’s 32 and doesn’t address Detroit’s biggest needs. 

The Pistons want to take the best player available. The front office believes it can draft a talented player with the pick. But general manager Troy Weaver acknowledged we could see a busy trade market on draft day, with certain lottery teams possibly looking to get off of their picks in search of cap relief. The Pistons are one of the few teams in the league with cap space, meaning they’re well-positioned to take in a large contract with assets attached. 

“I think teams will definitely look to explore those options,” Weaver said after the draft lottery in August. “Sure. Just the climate of the NBA and what’s ahead of us, absolutely … there could be some teams looking to get off those picks because of financial restraints.” 

Both scenarios are realistic, and it all depends on how the draft plays out. 

You can never say never, but the odds do not seem to be in favor of a Blake Griffin trade happening this offseason. He’s coming off of the worst statistical season of his career and hasn’t played since the end of December, and his cap hit is $36.8 million next season. Given the Pistons want to undergo a retooling that’ll allow them to sustainably compete for a title in the future, it doesn’t make sense for them to give up assets to move Griffin before next season.

The best-case scenario could beGriffin returns next season, bounces back to his 2018-19 form and raises his trade value, and the Pistons make an informed decision from there. That said, the league is aware of how good of a player Griffin is when healthy. This extended offseason, which has granted him extra time to get healthy, could skew the logic here a little. 

The no-brainer choice here is Brooklyn. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be healthy, and they have a strong core surrounding them. They should be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. 

There are good arguments for the Phoenix Suns, Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies as well. The Suns went 8-0 in the Orlando bubble and looked ready to take the next step. New Orleans is hoping to get a full season from Zion Williamson, which could put them in contention for a playoff seed. And the Grizzlies were in control of the eighth seed until Jaren Jackson Jr. injured his knee in the bubble. Reigning rookie of the year Ja Morant will be better and they have good young role players. The West is shaping up to be an even bigger bloodbath. 

The plan to bring back Wood is straightforward: The Pistons offer him a contract, and he either signs it or decides to go elsewhere.

As for how he fits with Griffin and Sekou Doumbouya, that remains to be seen. All three players are most comfortable playing power forward. Casey is evaluating Doumbouya’s ability to play small-ball five, and Wood played nearly half of his minutes at center. Assuming Doumbouya comes off of the bench again next season, Casey could start a Griffin-Wood frontcourt and slot in Doumbouya as he sees fit. 

The three players don’t necessarily compliment each other, though. A Griffin-Wood frontcourt would be offensively potent and fun to watch, but neither protect the rim well. Doumbouya, 19, is a project and it’s tough to predict what his strengths will be next season. If he’s able to reliably defend bigs, it would make the trio more workable.

I’m not sure if a Griffin-Buddy Hield swap makes complete sense for the Pistons, but I see the appeal. Hield is one of the NBA’s best shooters, even after a down year that saw his percentages dip, and has improved as a playmaker. But his contract is worth up to $106 million through the next four years. That’s a lot of money for a player who shoots the ball well, but doesn’t offer much else. And though he was only drafted four years ago, he turns 28 in December and will be 31 when his deal expires in 2024. He’s more of a veteran than a young player with upside.

When healthy, Griffin is a significantly better player with a contract that expires two years earlier. Assuming we’re talking a straight swap (which works financially, with no additional assets or contracts attached), I’m not sure if Hield alone would jumpstart the retool. 

There’s some upside, though. Hield’s contract declines each year, bottoming out with a cap hit of $19 million during the 2023-24 season. The trade would save the Pistons around $28 million through the next two seasons. Hield’s contract has a cap hit of $24.9 million next season, nearly $12 million less than Griffin’s deal. That would carve out additional cap space this offseason, and could help the Pistons afford to retain Wood while remaining active in free agency and the trade market.

The downside is the swap would add money to the Pistons’ books during the final two seasons of Hield’s deal. 

The Pistons have talked about wanting to be competitive next season, and trading for Hield doesn’t accomplish that by itself. Griffin has a lengthy injury history, but has proven he can be the best player on a playoff team. Hield has not. An argument can be made Hield’s contract won’t look as bad in two years, and the extra cap flexibility this year and next is worth the tradeoff. I don’t think it is, given Detroit has never been a prime destination for free agents. But I see the logic. 

Trading for Hield might make more sense if the Pistons are looking to move on from Luke Kennard, who will soon become eligible for an extension and will hit restricted free agency next offseason. Kennard hasn’t had any setbacks with his knees this offseason after bilateral knee tendonitis limited him to 28 games, and he’s due for a raise. Kennard is three years younger than Hield and has a similar game. If Kennard is a long-term solution at starting shooting guard, the Pistons should prioritize other strengths in a potential Griffin deal. 

The Pistons need a center, so pursuing Harry Giles makes sense. Thanks to injuries, he hasn’t lived up to being the No. 1 ranked recruit of the 2016 class. But he’s only 22 and has shown enough through two seasons to believe he can grow into a better player. His assist percentages both seasons ranked in the 86th percentile, according to Cleaning The Glass. If he can protect the rim and stay healthy, he could have a long career.

Isaiah Thomas is another player I’m curious about. He bounced around the league since suffering a career-altering hip injury in the 2017 playoffs, but recently told ESPN a recent hip-resurfacing procedure has given him his full range of motion back and removed the pain in his hip. With Derrick Rose entering the last year of his deal and being an appealing trade chip, the Pistons could potentially use another veteran point guard. Thomas might make sense. He’s also named after the greatest player in franchise history, which doesn’t hurt.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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