Detroit Pistons mailbag: Breaking down possible deals before NBA trade deadline

Detroit Free Press

The NBA trade deadline is on Feb. 9. And many Detroit Pistons fans are looking beyond this season, thanks to the 12-36 overall record, setting them on pace to finish with fewer than 25 wins for the fourth straight season.

This month’s Pistons mailbag will break down trade ideas submitted by fans and also look at Detroit’s potential activity in the two-and-a-half weeks leading up to the deadline.

Big thanks to everyone who sent a question.

If Pistons want a big wing that can defend, where do Bojan, Saddiq and Stew fit in? Does Stew go to bench with Bags? Livers and Diallo futures? Feels like this team has unaligned parts and one big move will shake things up. Are the Pistons interested in John Collins? — @rudyjuly2

It’s clear that the Pistons need a wing who can contain players on the perimeter. They have a defensive rating of 118.0, which is 29th in the NBA. The roster has three players — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Isaiah Livers — who are consistent defensive positives. Hayes is a physical defender who makes his matchups uncomfortable, Stewart is big and mobile and can handle a variety of assignments, and Livers is switchable and rotates well while also being one of the best communicators on the roster.

Beyond those three, the rest of the roster has been somewhere between “inexperienced” and “abysmal” defensively. The Pistons have struggled to contain dribble penetration all season and have allowed opposing teams to score 55.6 points in the paint per game, the second-highest amount in the league. Jalen Duren has upside as a rim protector, but very few centers in the league can shut down layup lines to the rim for long stretches. And he’s still learning the speed of the NBA on the fly.

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A wing that can defend his position and switch onto ball-handlers would do wonders for this team. But the Pistons has a logjam at forward, with Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Stewart and Livers all vying for minutes.

I do think many of Detroit’s defensive issues are youth-related and can resolve with time. Jaden Ivey has great tools due to his athleticism and length, but he’s struggled reading the game on that end of the floor thus far. Duren is already a promising defensive force down low. And Cade Cunningham, out for the season, also has the size and intelligence to be at least average defensively, if not an all-around positive. He showed promise last season, but was prone to rookie mistakes.

It’s reasonable to expect that the Pistons, after another offseason of spending, trading and developing their young players, will have the tools to move closer to average defensively next season. As for John Collins, I believe the front office is committed to Duren and Stewart long-term and like the duo’s upside as a starting frontcourt. Trading for Collins would instantly send one of Stewart or Duren to the bench and eat into both of their minutes, and it’s tough to see the Pistons making that type of win-now move in the midst of a developmental season.

Would you agree that the Pistons should do all they can to get our draft rights back from NYK? A high lottery pick and full control of picks 2024 and beyond could go a long way with the cap space the Pistons have. Reddish, Fournier, DET 1RP, MIL 2025 1RP for Bogey, and 2nds? — @JRuc90

Getting back that 2023 pick, which is top-18 protected for 2023 and 2024 and eventually ended up in the New York Knicks’ hands after the Pistons initially traded it to the Houston Rockets in a larger deal involving Isaiah Stewart in 2020, would certainly open up more trade possibilities. The team is currently constrained by the NBA’s Stepien Rule, which prohibits teams from not having their own first-round pick in back-to-back drafts.

The Knicks have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams and could look to make a push at the deadline. Bogdanovic would give the Knicks another weapon, and this package — which includes two first-round picks and a 2019 lottery pick in Cam Reddish who has yet to traction in the NBA — could be enticing for the Pistons. But I think including two first-round picks makes this a tad too rich for the Knicks, who committed big money to RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson this offseason, don’t have a pressing need at forward and already have the NBA’s sixth-best offensive rating.

I have 2

Bojan/Cojo to NYK for Rose/Reddish/Toppin/DET 23 #1

Bey/Noel/Knox/Cojo to ATL for Collins/Krejci/Martin — @PistonsBlog

Here’s another Bogdanovic-to-New York trade, with Cory Joseph included on Detroit’s side and Reddish, Derrick Rose, Obi Toppin and just Detroit’s own 2023 first-round pick included on the Knicks’ side. I think New York would think hard about this one, but the Pistons would ultimately say no. They’re not in a hurry to move Bogdanovic, and this type of deal would likely still be available to them this summer. Rose has a team option next season, Reddish has yet to prove he’s an NBA-caliber forward, and Toppin has underwhelmed. The main appeal of this trade is the draft pick, considering it may not give the Pistons a solid rotation player in 2023-24.

As for the second deal, I think the Hawks would say no. Collins is the best player on that list by a significant margin and they would want more value.

Bogey, Ivey & Bey, for OG Anunoby and cap filler.  Raptors can flip Bogey for 1st (round) pick and Pistons get much needed defensive upgrade — @AndyMayoras

I think the Pistons would think about it very hard. Trading for Anunoby would certainly be a win-now move and lower their odds of landing Victor Wembanyama. But he’s the best player in the deal and only 25, young enough to fit with Detroit’s youthful core. He has a player option for the 2024-25 season, but he’ll certainly get a raise by hitting the open market. Anunoby is slated to make $18.6 million next season, and his player option would be for $19,928,571. He’s underpaid and will soon be expensive

Regardless of the appeal for Detroit, I think the Raptors would hang up. They have every incentive to retain Anunoby, who has emerged as one of the league’s best and most versatile defenders. If they trade Anunoby, it should be for a star rather than for a rebuild package.

Pistons receive: Heat forward Duncan Robinson, Heat rookie forward Nikola Jovic, Lakers rookie wing Max Christie, Heat 2023 first round pick (top-8 protected), Lakers 2027 first round pick (top-8 protected)

Heat receive: Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic

Lakers receive: Pistons forward Saddiq Bey

— @kindofblue_2

Getting two first-round picks, the 27th pick of the 2022 draft in Jovic and former MSU standout Max Christie (35th overall last summer) would be a good haul for Detroit. Bogdanovic is the best player on the list and Bey could end up being better than Jovic and Christie, but it’s too early to make that determination now. This is a very future-minded trade, and I wonder how comfortable the front office would be trading an elite scorer in Bogdanovic and a player they’ve deeply invested into in Bey for a bundle of unproven youth. Still, two first-rounders is hard to say no to.

Unfortunately, the Lakers instantly say no to this. They are light on assets and have title aspirations. And Bey, who has shown promise but also has struggled with inconsistency and will be extension-eligible this offseason, doesn’t fit their timeline. At the very least, I think they would want a proven starter with one of their available first-rounders. I also have doubts that the Heat would give up a 2023 first-rounder and their 2022 first-rounder when they’re nearly 10 games back from the first seed and unlikely to make a deep playoff run, even with Bogdanovic.

Are the young Pistons improving? I feel like I see some progress, but not as much as people would hope. Is this normal compared to other team’s development? @joenino

The Phoenix Suns won 23, 24, 21, 19 and 34 games from 2015-20 before breaking through with 51 and 64 wins these last two seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers won 19, 19 and 22 games from 2018-21 before winning 44 games last year. The Sacramento Kings finished with losing records from 2006-22 and made zero playoff appearances in that span, but finally look like a solid playoff contender now.

Those are three very different timelines, but the point is that there’s nothing abnormal about Detroit’s situation. Fans are understandably weary from 15 years without a playoff win, but the current iteration of the rebuild didn’t begin until Troy Weaver took over in 2020. It sounds like an excuse, but Weaver would’ve needed some great luck to turn things around in fewer than three seasons.

Consider the Memphis Grizzlies, who jumpstarted their rebuild by flipping Mike Conley and Marc Gasol for assets, and also got lucky by moving up in the lottery to land Ja Morant. Weaver inherited a roster headlined by Blake Griffin, who had to be bought out of his max contract because injuries tanked his game and trade value. The Pistons didn’t have veterans who could return multiple draft picks and rotation players like Conley and Gasol did for Memphis. Griffin’s dead money didn’t leave the books until last summer. And Cade Cunningham, who should’ve been Detroit’s Morant this season, had season-ending surgery in December.

With Cunningham out, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the Pistons haven’t made the meaningful steps forward fans wanted to see. If Morant missed most of his second season in Memphis, the Grizzlies certainly wouldn’t have gone 38-34 overall and made the playoffs in 2021. But there have been positives with the Pistons. Hayes and Stewart are having the best seasons of their careers, Ivey and Duren have flashed potential and Bogdanovic and Alec Burks have been among the NBA’s better scorers in their roles.

With cap space, a potential top-five pick and Cunningham back, they’ll be well-positioned to make a leap next season. They just have to get through this season first.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

Check out the latest episode of “The Pistons Pulse” podcast, with Free Press beat writer Omari Sankofa II and former Division I player and current analyst Bryce Simon. Listen on AppleSpotify or wherever you load up podcasts.

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