It’s officially trade rumor season. Dec. 15 — Wednesday — marked the date that every free agent who signed during the offseason became trade-eligible, roughly seven weeks ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
The 4-24 Detroit Pistons, who are mired in a 14-game losing streak/snapped a 13-game losing streak with a win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday), have been frequently mentioned as a team that could make a move.
That’s because they have one of the most intriguing trade prospects in the league. Jerami Grant, recovering from surgery on his right thumb, is one of the NBA’s most “sought after” players, according to a report from The Athletic. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported “it is believed” that Detroit is focused on moving Grant before his contract expires after the 2022-23 season, and NBA insider Marc Stein reports there’s a growing belief from rival teams that the Pistons will move on from Grant before the deadline.
BEY’S DAY: How Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey ended slump: Aggressiveness in practice translates to game
PISTONS MAILBAG: Early look at 2022 NBA draft’s tantalizing talent
SAD STREAK: Beware: Pistons’ longest skids usually travel in pairs
Other than Cade Cunningham, Grant is Detroit’s most valuable asset. He has proven himself more skilled on offense than many expected when he signed a three-year, $60 million contract in 2020. He’s averaging 20.1 points and 4.8 rebounds this season and was shaking off an early-season slump before he injured his thumb against the New Orleans Pelicans on Dec. 10. His six-week recovery timeline would have him back toward the end of January, shortly before the deadline.
Grant’s signing is still one of Troy Weaver’s most notable moves a year and a half into his tenure as general manager. Grant headlined Detroit’s 2020 offseason, and emerged as one of the NBA’s most improved players last season. His offensive versatility and ability to switch on defense makes him a great fit with every playoff contender. It isn’t hard to see why the front office has been inundated with phone calls regarding Grant’s availability.
Detroit’s eventual decision on Grant will help define the course of their “restoring.” The Pistons will likely finish well short of a playoff bid this year. They have a chance to make a major improvement next season, with the addition of another high lottery pick and spending of significant cap space, but Grant will be headed to unrestricted free agency at the end of that season. His next deal will be more expensive.
Would it be wise for the Pistons to invest more money in Grant in the midst of a rebuild? Would Grant be willing to return if the Pistons miss the playoffs again in 2022-23, leaving them at 15 seasons without a postseason win? In any event, with a new franchise player in Cunningham and a line of teams ready to make a deal, it might make more sense for Detroit to be proactive and get a deal done before the final year of Grant’s contract kicks in.
While the Pistons have other potential trade chips, Grant is the player most likely to return a strong package of assets. The front office has a decision to make.
Grant has value, but Pistons don’t need to rush
Grant’s thumb injury is unlikely to faze interested teams, given that he already has an established track as a playoff performer — 35 games of playoff experience, with 19 played during the Denver Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals run in the 2020 Orlando bubble. His contract — an average of $20 million annually — is a bargain relative to his production.
Rival teams would certainly like to acquire Grant ahead of this season’s deadline, enabling them to have Grant for two playoff runs, instead of one, and integrate him into their system before he becomes extension-eligible this offseason.
The NBA’s extreme parity this season increases the urgency for teams below the playoff line to get a deal done. Only six games separate the current No. 2-seed Chicago Bulls and the No. 13 Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference. In the West, 6½ games separate the No. 3 seed (the Utah Jazz) and the No. 9 seed (Minnesota Timberwolves). The play-in tournament has given rebuilding teams an alternate path to playoff relevancy. Several teams that were in the NBA’s basement not long ago, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets, are now in the thick of the postseason race.
The best time to trade Grant could be now, but I don’t expect the Pistons will settle for any deal. Grant is not only their most valuable asset, but a valuable member of the team. He has a longstanding relationship with Weaver, and is Detroit’s No. 1 offensive option. He’s already one of the most successful free agency signings in franchise history. It isn’t lost on the Pistons that Grant decided to spurn a blossoming Nuggets team and bet on himself — and on Detroit’s upside.
The Pistons don’t need to rush. They will likely have another top-five pick this summer to pair with Cunningham, and they’ll be out from under Blake Griffin’s contract, giving them plenty of cap space. Rival teams will still be interested in Grant. If the right deal doesn’t come along before Feb. 10, it could conceivably be presented this offseason.
Remember, Detroit still owes a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets. Acquiring an additional first-round pick would not only give the Pistons another shot at adding a young player to their core, but additional flexibility in future trades. They can’t trade their own first, but they could trade a first that they acquired from another team. Adding more picks has been a focus for the front office. They received two second-round picks in a trade with the New York Knicks ahead of last year’s deadline, and four second-round picks in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets in early September.
There are several playoff hopefuls, including the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, with a core of young players and future picks that could be appealing to Detroit. (Not that either team is officially pushing to land Grant, but a quick survey across the league suggests they’re among the multiple teams with the chips necessary to get a deal done, should they wish to.)
Examining Pistons’ other assets
If the Pistons want to improve their roster depth, they have other avenues. Their most pressing need is size. They were the NBA’s worst rebounders entering Saturday, grabbing just 47.7% of missed shots. After Kelly Olynyk’s injury, they don’t have an active player taller than 6 feet 9.
After ranking among Detroit’s leaders in minutes last season, Josh Jackson has fallen toward the end of coach Dwane Casey’s rotation. His biggest strength — perimeter defense — is replicated elsewhere on the roster, and he has been inconsistent offensively and turnover-prone. Jackson is making roughly $5 million this season. If the Pistons need to include an additional contract in a deal to get it to the finish line, he’s a logical option.
Veterans Trey Lyles, Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder and Olynyk are all eligible to be traded as well. Hamidou Diallo will become eligible on Jan. 15.
When asked if there were any “untouchable” players last season, Weaver said he wouldn’t designate anyone as untouchable. It would be shocking to see the Pistons move on from Cunningham, their prized No. 1 pick. Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey haven’t improved greatly from their rookie seasons, but the Pistons have incentive to keep developing them. Last year’s two-way players, Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, are both rotation pieces and should also be in the franchise’s plans.
It’s tough to see the Pistons making a move that would drastically change their fortunes for this season. The organization is thinking long-term. Cunningham has often operated more like a second option when playing alongside Grant, but he’s the franchise player. The focus of any trades and signings at this point should be on building a roster that accentuates Cunningham’s strengths.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.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.