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Sonny’s Side Note: What the Detroit Pistons need to accomplish at the trade deadline

By Sonny Mulpuri, Digital Editor

Many fans can agree that the Detroit Pistons’ season has been subpar at best. Some may even go as far as to call it a disappointment. As of Feb. 14, the Pistons hold on to the eighth seed with a record of 26-30, a game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks, but also three and a half games behind the Indiana Pacers for the sixth seed. If the team feels satisfied about squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed, I wouldn’t recommend they stray too far away from their current course. However, I don’t think that’s the vision head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy has in mind for the future.

The first course of action the Pistons should take is finding another option at their starting point guard. The acquisition of Reggie Jackson will be the two year anniversary come this deadline, but it might be time to move on already. Yes, Jackson is a young point guard on a young team, but his production hasn’t matched what his contract demands from him. His points per game (PPG) is down almost four points from last season. His field goal percentage, 44 percent to 42 percent, and assists per game (APG), 6.2 APG to 5.6 APG, have declined as well.

There could be a case made where he hasn’t fully recovered from his knee injury sustained early in the season, but he is averaging around 29 minutes a game 35 games played. The believers say he is just coming into form, but his stats state otherwise. In his last ten games, Jackson is shooting 37 percent from the field, averaging 5.6 APG and only 10.4 PPG. That is very lackluster production from your point guard of the “future.” Van Gundy has stressed that Jackson will not be dealt, but if he doesn’t pull the trigger and trade Jackson away, it will be a monumental mistake.

Another problem with Jackson is his contract, which is valued at five years for 80 million dollars. That puts him up with the contracts of all-stars Demarcus Cousins, Draymond Green and John Wall. Trading him would be one solution of the Pistons’ problem of having the third highest payroll in the NBA this season. Jackson has seemed to change his game into a score-first point guard. However, as a point guard, Jackson should be looking to dish the ball out to his teammates and run the pick-and-roll, something that worked well for the team last season, with all-star center Andre Drummond.

Now, for some of the potential options that have been linked to Jackson. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been rumored with the most plausible trade. A player swap of Ricky Rubio for Jackson gained a lot of traction of the past few weeks, but Van Gundy shot them down. Unlike Jackson, Rubio is a pass-first point guard and that shows when one looks at his season average of 8.3 APG. He has a career high in field goal percentage at 39 and free throw percentage at 87. He’s not averaging double digit points per game like Jackson is, but the amount of assists he gets per game will equal that out.

Rubio could thrive in a system like the Pistons’, capitalizing on many changes of pick-and-roll opportunities with Drummond. Rubio would also help the payroll issue by giving the Pistons an additional five million dollars to go towards other contracts, like the 20 million dollar per year contract Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wants or perhaps another solid bench player acquisition in the offseason. Rubio is the same age as Jackson and if some of the younger Pistons’ players can blossom into good scoring options behind Drummond, Rubio will find himself averaging many more assists and creating more shots for himself, too.

Another name that has been kicked around is John Wall of the Washington Wizards. This trade would be a stretch as Washington would most likely wanted a first round pick in this year’s draft, which is one of best classes in the past few years, a young raw talent like Stanley Johnson and a future first round pick. Wall is averaging 22.9 PPG and 10.6 APG this season.

Even though this is the trade that could slingshot the Pistons up in the standings with perennial all-star Wall coupled with Drummond in the paint, it’s more of a fantasy for Pistons’ fans as Washington is doing the best they have done in the past few seasons, with the third seed, and wouldn’t really want to trade their franchise cornerstone as he seems to find his first real taste of success in the NBA. The Pistons would have to give up a lot in exchange for Wall and taking away from the future wouldn’t really help them build a legitimate powerhouse.

One of the trades that I suggest that has gone under the radar is the New Orleans Pelicans’ starting point guard Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans are in the spot where they should start adding some pieces quickly before Anthony Davis’s prime is over and/or he starts to become unhappy with them. If the Pistons would send a first round pick this year or next year along with Jackson for Holiday, it would be a trade that would make sense for both sides. The Pelicans could add quickly to their core in another first round pick in this year’s draft and if they even really wanted to could flip Jackson for another one, although I doubt that would happen. Holiday is the same age as Jackson and is averaging 16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG and shooting close to 47 percent. He would also save the Pistons close to five to six million dollars this season. However, since he is an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Pistons would also face the risk of letting him go for nothing or they would have to give him the money they would owe Jackson if they would keep him. Holiday is just stepping into his prime and he and Drummond could be a deadly dynamic duo in the Eastern Conference if Van Gundy decides to make a deal of this sort.

The other players that could be moved at the deadline for the Pistons are centers Boban Marjanovic, Aron Baynes, point guard Beno Udrih and small forward Reggie Bullock. If the Pistons moved Udrih and Bullock, it would only be as a precaution to get anything they could for them in case they would leave for another team this summer as their contracts are expiring too.

The Pistons are overcrowded at the center position, and I have a good feeling that either Marjanovic or Baynes will remain with the team. Baynes is two years older than Marjanovic and also five inches shorter. Marjanovic is a freak of nature at seven feet, three inches, a wingspan of seven feet, eight inches and hands that make the basketball look like a tennis ball. Because of having to share minutes with Baynes this season, Marjanovic hasn’t been able to produce to his capacity, but in the limited time his as allotted he’s averaging 3.7 PPG and 3.3 rebounds per game (RPG) in only seven minutes per game. Baynes, on the other hand, is averaging 4.6 PPG and 3.9 RPG in close to 15 minutes played.

Their contracts are practically the same, with the Pistons paying Marjanovic seven million a year and Baynes six and a half million a year. However, Baynes does have a player option for next season that he could very well pick up if he stayed with Detroit and would still be splitting minutes with Marjanovic. The Pistons should trade him while they can and gain some more money in cap space, so they can fill other holes. They could package him in a potential deal with Jackson for a backup shooting guard or small forward along with the starting point guard for that team. Even if the Pistons don’t make a blockbuster trade at the deadline, they should still try to acquire some bench depth by trading Marjanovic, Baynes, Udrih and/or Bullock.

The Pistons made the playoffs as the eighth seed last year, but they were swept by the world champions Cleveland Cavaliers. It seems like history will repeat itself this year with the Pistons playing one of the better teams in the East and getting either swept or losing in five games in the first round. The Pistons could rejuvenate over the all-star break and work out some of the kinks they’ve had this season, but such an inconsistent team shouldn’t be left up to chance. The Pistons need to get the impactful players that can help them get past the first round of the playoffs this season and also make a deep run in the next few years.

Photo credit: www.nba.com

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does one of his celebrations after hitting a shot in an away game. He has been producing at the level of the contract he wants. KCP is averaging 14.1 PPG, 2.9 APG and 3.3 RPG this season.

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