Detroit Pistons are comfortable with a quiet 2023 NBA trade deadline. Should they be?

Detroit Free Press

There’s a good chance the Detroit Pistons will sit pat during the 2023 NBA trade deadline, which concludes at 3 p.m. Thursday.

The question is, should they?

The Pistons entered Saturday at 14-39, tied for the NBA’s second-worst record, their .264 winning percentage fourth worst in franchise history. They have two veterans in Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks are on the wrong side of 30 years old, and hold appeal across the league. But sources have told the Free Press both players are held in high regard by the organization, and the asking price is high.

The Pistons are in the midst of a lost season. Cade Cunningham’s shin injury ruined any chance of making a leap similar to the Indiana Pacers, who are in the play-in hunt thanks largely to the All-Star play of third-year point guard Tyrese Haliburton. It makes sense a segment of the Pistons’ fanbase is clamoring for a splash at the trade deadline — anything to add excitement to a disappointing season.

But the front office has set its sights beyond this season. And what the team does — or doesn’t — do at the deadline will say a lot about how far third-year general manager Troy Weaver believes the Pistons are in their rebuild, and how close they are to competing.

There’s logic to the idea now is the best time to move Bogdanovic and Burks, who are both in the midst of career seasons. If both players remain on the roster after the deadline, it’ll be a clear signal the Pistons are all-in on competing next season.

Time will tell if that’s the right approach.

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The argument for selling high

Bogdanovic, 33, is averaging career-highs in points per game (21.4), true shooting (62.9%) and usage rate (25.6%). It’s an anomaly for a player his age to have the best season of his career, while carrying a roster lacking star power. He’s not playing alongside two All-Stars, like he did with the Utah Jazz. He’s a one-man offense and one of the league’s better scorers.

Many players are at the end of their primes, if not entirely out of it, by the age of 33. Bogdanovic is not the typical NBA player, however. This is only his ninth season, as he made his debut at the age of 25 in 2014 after playing in Europe. Perhaps the low mileage on his body is extending his prime. Or maybe he’s built differently. Whatever the reason, his experience and production has helped him become one of the hottest trade targets.

The Pistons signed Bogdanovic to a two-year, $39.1 million extension in late October. Initially set to enter unrestricted free agency this summer, Bogdanovic is now signed through the 2024-25 season, with that season only being partially guaranteed at $2 million. His extension speaks not only to the Pistons’ desire to keep him beyond this season, but to the confidence that his season isn’t an anomaly. With Cunningham back next season, Bogdanovic won’t have to carry as heavy a load. They can live with his points per game decreasing, as long as his efficiency remains high.

There’s reason to believe Bogdanovic’s value will hold beyond this season. He can be a strong No. 2 or 3 scorer next to Cunningham, or an asset on the trade market this offseason when the Pistons could have more than $40 million in cap space to play with.

Of course, there are other ways for Bogdanovic’s value to decline. An injury would tank Detroit’s chances of moving him for a good draft pick. Joe Ingles, at the age of 33, enjoyed a career year with Utah in 2020-21 by averaging 12.1 points on 48.9% overall shooting and 45.1% shooting from 3. Ingles’ 2021-22 season was a steep decline, as he averaged career-worsts in field goal percentage (40.4%) and 3-point percentage (34.7%) before suffering a season-ending ACL tear on Jan. 30. He’s currently shooting 38.4% from 3 with the Milwaukee Bucks, but he’s not the same player he was two years ago.

Carrying Bogdanovic, who turns 34 in April, into the offseason is a gamble, even if the logic is sound. He has only missed more than four games in a season twice in his career, but durability can’t be taken for granted. That logic also holds true for Burks, averaging 13.6 points on a career-best 62% true shooting percentage. Unlike Bogdanovic, Burks, who will turn 32 in July, has a significant injury history. His $10 million team option this summer is a better value for the Pistons than any other use they could get out of that salary number, but that doesn’t mean the value will hold beyond this upcoming trade deadline.

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Why it makes sense for Detroit to prioritize the offseason

For the team and fans, this season has been a flop. Cunningham, the 2021 first overall pick, has been in street clothes since November, and the franchise is on pace to finish with fewer than 25 wins for the four year in a row. Losing gets old, even when it’s during an intentional rebuild.

Eventually, all front offices lose patience with the rebuilding process. It’s tough to stomach for multiple seasons in a row. This front office doesn’t appear to have interest in continuing to be a bottom dweller beyond this season. But it has strong incentive to continue being bad this season, rather than making a trade that would marginally improve the final record.

That’s because the top prospect in June’s draft, Victor Wembanyama, is a generational talent. At 7 feet 4, we’ve never seen a prospect with his combination of shooting touch, ball-handling and defensive instincts. Imagine if Rudy Gobert had a perimeter game, or if Kristaps Porzingis were a perennial All-NBA defender. That’s Wembanyama’s upside.

G League standout Scoot Henderson, an athletic 6-2 point guard with strong playmaking upside, is talented enough to be in the top pick discussion in most drafts. And there are other prospects, such as Alabama forward Brandon Miller or Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson, with superstar potential.

Despite drafting six first-round picks in three years, the Pistons still need to swing for star talent in the draft. Their 2020 picks — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey — are solid role players but don’t appear to be franchise-changing talents. The jury is out on Cunningham, who showed star promise last season. Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren have the tools to get there, but they’re still rookies.

And the bottom line is the Pistons are bad. It wasn’t the plan this season, but it’s the reality. They owe it to themselves to maximize their lottery odds and give the rebuild one more young piece that can turn fortunes around, even if that decision won’t give fans something to root for through April.

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There’s no clear right or wrong answer to the question of whether to move Bogdanovic and/or Burks now. The front office has picked a direction, and that direction is prioritizing making a run next season. With their cap space, lottery pick and potentially two good, movable veterans, they’ll have the tools to improve the roster and put a better product on the floor.

There’s still time to pivot and decide this season is still worth fighting for. But in the long run, the gamble of holding tight until the offseason could pay off big.

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

Pistons fans, check out the latest episode of our podcast “The Pistons Pulse.” Episodes drop every Tuesday morning, and we’ll have a special live edition Thursday night on YouTube after the trade deadline. Listen on AppleSpotify or wherever you load up podcasts.

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