Detroit Pistons’ Delon Wright for Cory Joseph swap opens summer flexibility

Detroit Free Press

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Earlier in March, general manager Troy Weaver said that while the Detroit Pistons would remain aggressive through the NBA trade deadline, he didn’t expect anything crazy to happen. After a busy November, the Pistons simply didn’t have many remaining moves to make. 

They did end up swinging a trade shortly after midnight Thursday, sending Delon Wright to the Sacramento Kings for Cory Joseph, a 2021 second-round pick and 2024 second-round pick. Along with their trade of Svi Mykhailiuk for Hamidou Diallo two weeks ago, it ended up being a fairly straightforward deadline for the Pistons. There were no “fireworks,” using Weaver’s choice word, but both trades have meaningful upside for the Pistons.

The Pistons also plan to keep veteran sharpshooter Wayne Ellington, per league sources, rather than buy him out of his contract. Ellington, who’s on a one-year deal and is shooting a career-high 43.1% from behind the arc this season, is in Detroit’s long-term plans

Here’s what we know about the Pistons’ moves. 

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By moving Wright, Pistons set sights on future 

When the Pistons acquired Wright in a three-team deal last November, they got a versatile, veteran combo guard who gave their young backcourt some stability. Wright wanted to play for the Pistons, largely because of his relationship with coach Dwane Casey. He began the season as a starter at shooting guard alongside Killian Hayes, and shifted to point guard when Hayes went down with an injury. Before suffering a groin injury in February, he was on an offensive hot streak. 

Given Wright is on an inexpensive contract that expires in 2022, the Pistons didn’t have to move him now. But the trade for Dennis Smith Jr. in February, along with Saben Lee’s emergence as a rotation-caliber guard and Hayes’ eventual return, created a logjam at the point guard position. Though Wright is the best player of the four at this stage, he wasn’t considered a player the Pistons could build around and became the odd man out. 

In return, the Pistons received Joseph — a 29-year-old veteran point guard who appeared in 44 games with the Kings this season — and two future second-round picks (Lakers’ this year, Kings’ in 2024). Joseph is on the books for $12.6 million both this season and next season, but is only guaranteed $2.4 million in 2021-22. 

That makes him a trade candidate this summer, as the Pistons could send him to a team looking to trim money off of their books in exchange for a larger contract. Or, the Pistons could waive him before his guarantee date and trim money off of their cap sheet. That would save them more than $10 million and open additional cap space, though their lottery pick and a potential re-signing of Diallo, a restricted free agent, would eat into it. 

From a rebuild standpoint, the picks are the most interesting part of the trade. Detroit entered this week with just three future second-round picks, with two of them in this year’s draft. They don’t own their own second-round pick until 2027. They now have a third second-round pick this year, as well as an additional pick in 2024. Counting their own 2021 first-round pick, which will likely be a high-lottery pick, the Pistons will have flexibility in the draft. They could hypothetically look to package second-rounders to move into the first round, or flip them for future picks. 

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Pistons hold onto Ellington, potentially long-term

Leading up to the deadline, there was plenty of interest around the league in Ellington, sources say. The 33-year-old sharpshooter could help every contending team in the NBA. But he has also helped the Pistons this season, both as a floor-spacer and as a leader in the locker room.

The Pistons are fans of Ellington, and ultimately opted to keep him. And though other teams would likely pounce if the Pistons bought Ellington out, they do not plan to. 

There’s belief the Pistons will look to re-sign Ellington this offseason. The organization doesn’t want to play the lottery game forever. It wants to compete, and Ellington’s shooting and eagerness to help the young players on the roster can help the organization now and in the future. He showed his value Wednesday, when he returned after a four-game absence to score 16 points and knock down four of his five 3-point attempts. 

Ellington is in the midst of one of the best seasons any Pistons shooter has had, ever. He hit 48 of his 92 attempts from 3 (52.2%) in January, tying himself for the second-most makes in a month for any player in franchise history. He made 25 3-pointers in Jan.18-25, setting the franchise record for made 3s over a five-game span. He also made four-plus 3s in seven straight games in January, becoming only the eighth player in NBA history to do so.

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That level of production, along with his leadership, makes him a valuable piece.

“Just his leadership, his approach to the game, his professionalism, is a great example for all of our young guys to see each and every day,” Casey said after Wednesday’s 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers. “He doesn’t have an off day. He’s the same each and every day with his approach and that’s what you gotta have when you’re building a team.”

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Detroit Pistons’ Wayne Ellington has trade deadline in back of his mind

Detroit Pistons guard Wayne Ellington speaks to the media after the 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Detroit Pistons, Detroit Free Press

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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