After all the smoke cleared in the eventful final hours before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Pistons made a big splash — but not the one that many observers predicted.
The Pistons added big man Marvin Bagley III, a former No. 2 overall pick, from the Sacramento Kings, and they still have leading scorer Jerami Grant. In a four-team deal, the Pistons sent Josh Jackson and Trey Lyles to the Kings, plus two second-round picks to the Milwaukee Bucks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
It’s a fairly low-risk move for the Pistons, as Jackson was on an expiring contract, and Lyles, who was signed in free agency in the offseason, wasn’t going to be in their long-term plans.
Bagley could turn into something, though.
He’s only 22 years old, and at 6-foot-11, he can play power forward or center. The Kings selected Bagley second overall in the 2018 draft, and though he hasn’t lived up to that lofty draft position, he still has plenty of upside. A change of scenery could do him well, and as general manager Troy Weaver has done in many of his trades, he sought out a young player with untapped potential.
It was the same blueprint in signing Jackson, who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft. That was another low-risk move that helped create enough value to get Bagley, who is averaging 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in 30 games this season. Bagley fits in perfectly with the age group of their young core, and even if he signs for a bigger number in the offseason, he won’t break the bank.
Bagley may not just be around for the short term. He’s in the final year of his deal, worth $11.3 million this season. Bagley can become a restricted free agent if the Pistons make a qualifying offer of $14.8 million — which they likely will do — and that would enable them to match any offer that another team makes in free agency.
The Pistons are projected to have about $31.4 million in available cap space, which will make them major players in the free-agent market. The potential issue is that there won’t be many elite free agents available, which underscores the importance of them getting Bagley now. It also meant they didn’t have any pressure to try to trade Grant at the deadline.
The Pistons didn’t miss the boat in keeping Grant for the remainder of this season. They weren’t pressured to deal Grant because he isn’t on an expiring deal, and his salary of $21 million next season won’t be a problem. He’s also eligible for an extension, which could be in the range of four years and upwards of $110 million. If that’s where they choose to use their long-term cap space, so be it — Grant has shown that he can be a building block for the future.
It’s clear that the Pistons set a price tag for a team wanting to acquire Grant — two first-round picks, according to some reports — and if a team wasn’t willing to offer that, they didn’t have to budge. That’s good discipline by Weaver and his staff, as they watched some other big names, such as James Harden, Ben Simmons and Kristaps Porzingis move around to new teams.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers also were involved in the four-team deal. The Bucks received Serge Ibaka from the Clippers, and Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood went to the Clippers. The Kings got Donte DiVincenzo from the Bucks in addition to Jackson and Lyles.
The Pistons’ roster is still far from a finished product. They’ll likely have a top-five pick in the draft in the summer, and with the most cap space in the league, they will have some options as they look for a veteran. Maybe that’s when they’ll make a bigger splash.
Thursday wasn’t the big day that some had hoped for in the Pistons’ progression forward, but it was a step. They are taking another measured gamble in their rebuild, and Bagley should help them.
As they did with Grant, the Pistons bet, and by all accounts, they’ve accumulated more value for a potential trade in the offseason. Or not.
There’s no pressure either way.