Pistons Bet Big on Blake

Trade season officially began when the Pistons picked up Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, and Willie Reed for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjanovic. The old adage was the team that got the best player in a trade won the trade, but is that true and what does this mean for the Pistons?

Detroit assumed a large portion of the risk in exchange for some upside. In the second 7+ game skid of the season, it was clear that the Pistons lacked a go to offensive option. Andre Drummond was simply not meant to be a primary scorer. Neither was Tobias Harris despite his increased points per game and shooting percentages. Both men, while fine players and All-Star candidates, are better suited to being the second or third option on a good team. Enter Blake Griffin, who does have the skill set and resume to fill in that role. In that sense, this trade filled a direct and obvious need.

The Pistons also added to their frontcourt rotation with Brice Johnson and Willie Reed, while removing Boban Marjanovic’s onerous contract. Boban was a fan favorite for good reason. He worked hard, had a great attitude, and was fun to watch play. Unfortunately, he was only playable in certain matchups. The advent of the stretch 5 limited the amount of time a traditional center can spend in the rotation.

However, the price Detroit paid was quite high. Tobias Harris was third on the team in 3 point percentage and led the team in 3 point attempts. It’s hard to trade a 25 year old player who has improved every season regardless of salary, but especially when the contract was so cap friendly. Harris’ contract had descending salaries: 17 million last season, 16 million this season, and 14.8 million next season. Compared to his production it was a relative bargain which would have looked even better in 18-19 had the trend continued. Blake Griffin pairs his bigger name and bigger game with bigger injury risks and a salary that’s 2-2.5x Tobias’ and rises each season until it ends in 2022.

Trading Avery Bradley raises its own set of questions for the Pistons. When the front office decided that Caldwell-Pope was not a good bet at his desired salary, Avery Bradley made a lot of sense. He brought stellar defense and capable scoring, but the elephant in the room was always whether he would remain a Piston. Trading him is not quite so painful if he wasn’t in Detroit’s long term plans. It also explains his trade value being depressed due to his 8.8 million dollar salary set to increase this offseason. But the Pistons have to find a way to replace the talent level at the shooting guard position.

That’s why the Pistons need to execute another trade. In the short term the backcourt is dangerously thin. Detroit went into this season expecting Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, and Luke Kennard to come off the bench. Now those are the three best guards in the backcourt rotation. That won’t get it done in today’s NBA. Even after Reggie Jackson comes back, there needs to be more firepower in the backcourt to compete with the Wall/Beal, DeRozan/Lowry, or even Payton/Fournier backcourts that the Pistons face nightly in the East. It would not be easy to replace the perimeter defense of Bradley and the perimeter scoring of Harris independently, let alone finding a player who combines both virtues. Detroit also has few trade chips available having divested themselves of a first round pick that is almost certain to go to the Clippers this year, plus an additional second round pick.

Stanley Johnson is the remaining trade chip available. So the Pistons have gambled that they can find another team that wants him badly enough to trade a backcourt piece (Rodney Hood?). The Pistons have gambled that Blake Griffin will fit in as well with Andre Drummond as he has with DeAndre Jordan. The Pistons have gambled that Blake Griffin will stay healthy over the next four and a half seasons. The Pistons have gambled that they can find outside shooting and perimeter defense via trades and from within, because there isn’t a lot of cap space left. And the Pistons have gambled that bringing in a big name with star power will energize the fan base. So, My Detroit Sports Fans, do you feel lucky?

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