It’s a wide-open Eastern Conference Playoff Race, and the Detroit Pistons are in it.
Detroit is in 10th place, which seems disappointing. But the team is somehow only 2.5 games out of first! That’s as much parity as you’ll ever find.
Stan Van Gundy has seen his team take a major step forward this season, but the team is on the outside looking in due to lack of depth. It’s no secret that Detroit’s bench has been atrocious this year. The unit scores under 23 points per game, dead last in the NBA, per Hoopsstats.com. And the damage doesn’t stop there.
Overall, Detroit’s net rating isn’t all that impressive, with a net rating of 0.5. But when all five starters play together, the team has a net rating of 10.2, per NBAwowy.com. When even one bench player comes in, it spells doom.
Aron Baynes has probably been the best bench player for the Pistons this season, providing good defense and solid rebounding. The team is obviously better when Andre Drummond is on the floor, but it can survive when its best player takes a breather due to Baynes being a steady force.
Stanley Johnson’s shown flashes of great play, but, like most rookies has been inconsistent. He’s shooting 37.2 percent and has moments where he looks lost. But he’s still playable and should improve as the year goes on.
From there, it gets bleak. Anthony Tolliver’s been a sub-par three-point shooter and a trainwreck everywhere else. Van Gundy continues to give Steve Blake run even though he is the definition of washed. And admittedly, his other backup option at point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie, hasn’t been much better.
Brandon Jennings will return, but expecting him to save the bench coming off a major injury isn’t fair. Jennings will be an improvement over Blake and Dinwiddie, but he’s not going to prop up the entire weak bench. And without the injured Jodie Meeks, it’s hard to see this situation getting much better.
This situation has led to a lot of people calling for a trade. One more solid rotational player could easily be the difference between a playoff appearance and a ninth or tenth place finish for Detroit. But it’s not as easy to find a good piece this year as some make it out to be.
The parity in the East has made the seller’s market almost as thin as Detroit’s bench. Among Eastern Conference teams, only Philadelphia and Brooklyn are truly out of the playoff race.
Philadelphia has Robert Covington, but his talent and cheap contract make it unlikely he’s moved for less than a fantastic offer. Since Detroit doesn’t have any valuable young players that are available, and the Pistons shouldn’t sacrifice first-rounders for Covington because there isn’t a fit there.
Hollis Thompson is interesting but hasn’t played well this year. And there is no reason for Philadelphia to move him for minor assets, either, as he’s on a cheap contract. So, there isn’t a fit with the 76ers.
Brooklyn offers one of the better fits for Detroit, a wing who likely isn’t super valuable. Bojan Bogdanovic is having a rough year, and it’s possible Brooklyn would be willing to swap him for Steve Blake, Reggie Bullock and a second-round pick. Bullock is still youngish, and perhaps Brooklyn would rather have him and a second-rounder than Bogdanovic since the team won’t be contending anytime soon.
Detroit would be wagering on Bogdanovic being worth playing again, but it wouldn’t be too high a wager. Detroit has already given out three future second-rounders, but one more is a small price to pay. It’s still very possible Brooklyn (maybe even likely) wouldn’t think that was enough for Bogdanovic, but, if it is, this deal might make the most sense.
There are more teams in the West willing to deal, but no easier places to find equal value. It’s hard to find a good match for Detroit’s modest assets in Phoenix and Portland. Minnesota has so far resisted offers on Shabazz Muhammad, and Detroit couldn’t reasonably match Kevin Martin’s salary even if it wanted to do that. A Damjan Rudez-Reggie Bullock swap might make sense because Rudez is buried in Minnesota, but, at least, can shoot. He’s likely not going to be a major difference-maker though.
The Lakers would jump at the chance to move Nick Young for assets, but Van Gundy shouldn’t want that contract. It’s possible Ben McLemore could be had for a first-rounder, Bullock and Blake, but should Van Gundy really sacrifice a future first for someone who has looked pedestrian to this point and is a restricted free agent in two years?
If McLemore isn’t in the Pistons plans, the only other deal that makes some sense is for Randy Foye. Foye has been nothing short of awful this season, but he’s a career 40 percent three-point shooter. If Van Gundy thinks he can rejuvenate Foye, he can probably be had cheaply. Bullock and Blake might be enough to get it done.
But when Bogdanovic and Foye are the most realistic options on the market, it shows how few options Detroit has. Van Gundy won’t want to sacrifice the future (nor should he), but, without first-round picks, Detroit just doesn’t have any valuable assets. And with the way the market has shaken out so far this year, getting one more player is easier said than done.