Pistons enter final stretch with new life

Trent Balley

The Detroit Pistons have endured quite the rollercoaster ride of a season thus far. It wasn’t until the trade deadline that general manager Ed Stefanski decided to shake things up… quite a bit. It took three new acquisitions, but it’s beginning to look like the shake-up just might push the Pistons into the Eastern Conference playoffs.

A couple weeks ago, Detroit first shipped starting guard Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Lakers, who are looking to make a playoff push of their own. In return, the Lakers sent rookie guard/forward Svi Mykhailiuk to Detroit along with a 2021 second-round draft pick. Mykhailiuk is just 21 years old, and will provide more efficient shooting for a team that is currently 28th in the league in three-point percentage (33.8 percent).

The primary reasoning behind this trade seems to be that Bullock will become a free agent this summer. With most of the Pistons’ salary resting in Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson’s contracts, it would be a challenge to retain Bullock. Stefanski was at least successful in getting a fair return.

A day following the Bullock deal, the Pistons decided to trade another rotation player in forward Stanley Johnson. The Pistons sent Johnson to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for big man Thon Maker in a one-for-one deal. Johnson then was traded again to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The deal was reportedly made solely to give both young players a change of scenery and a new opportunity, as Johnson (22 years old) averages just over seven points per game for his career, with Maker (21) averaging 4.5 points for his.

Unlike the Bullock deal, this one left NBA fans scratching their heads. It’s well documented through social media that Drummond and Johnson were close friends. Added to the fact that Johnson is a young, athletic wing with promising potential for the future, and it was slightly surprising that the Pistons were so willing to move on. Nonetheless, Maker is another young piece with promise, and the chemistry change might prove beneficial to the locker room.

With the Pistons’ starting frontcourt already set in stone by the likes of 2019 All-Star Griffin and league-leading rebounder Drummond, Maker will come off the bench. This isn’t to say he won’t see the floor much, however, as he’ll be the primary big man outside of the starting lineup. The 7-foot-1 Sudanese rim-protector can play power forward or center.

The Pistons’ third acquisition came when the team landed veteran guard Wayne Ellington via free agency. The 31-year-old was traded from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, and after being waived immediately by the Suns, he hit the market. After speculation that Ellington prefered to join a contender, the Pistons came on strong in the recruiting process.

What Ellington provides aside from his veteran leadership is, much like Mykhailiuk, more three-point shooting. Currently averaging eight points on 40 percent shooting from the field for his career, Ellington will serve as a “spare tire” to help the Pistons make this final run at a playoff spot.

Speaking of the playoffs, how are the Pistons’ chances? If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, seeing that the Pistons have basically been hovering around 10th and 11th place in the Eastern Conference since Christmas, it’s time to look up again.

Casey has his newly-revamped roster locked in, and the Pistons are sitting at eighth place in the standings with a 26-30 record. If the season ended now, the Pistons would be facing the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

However, there are still games yet to be played. The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is extremely tight, with the six through eight seeds currently separated by 2.0 games total. Right now, it looks like the Pistons will be racing the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic for the final three spots. There’s no doubt that the Pistons’ biggest goal at the moment is to do whatever possible to NOT be one of the odd teams out, here’s exactly why.

Given the current state of the Pistons, the direction is clear: get as many solid pieces around Blake Griffin as possible, put the ball in his hands and let Drummond do the dirty work. Griffin is in the midst of the second year of a five-year, $173 million contract. He’s worth the big bucks, given his All-Star numbers of 26.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season. However, that also means that there’s not much money to spend elsewhere, and it would be difficult to find a trade destination to stomach his contract if the Pistons were to shop him (they haven’t and won’t anytime soon).

With a foresight of Griffin leading the charge and a Drummond/Jackson pairing close behind him, the Pistons’ time to win is now. Especially given the lack of depth in the upcoming draft, a lottery pick wouldn’t help the Pistons much at all. Furthermore, Detroit would be looking at the 13th or 14th overall pick in the lottery. On the other hand, if the Pistons made the playoffs, they would still be looking at a mid-round pick. The chance at a playoff run and the experience that it would provide this roster far outweighs the value of a late lottery pick.

We know Griffin has plenty of playoff experience; we’ve seen him advance to the second round multiple times as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. However, the last Pistons playoff berth came in 2016, a series that ended in a first-round sweep thanks to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

The only two players remaining from that roster are Drummond and Jackson. For many of the other starters and rotation players like Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and Maker, they would be playing in their first postseason. To have that experience under their belts, paired with an effective player in the mid-to-late first round of the draft, would greatly benefit this Pistons team going forward.

So, if you’re a Pistons fan and you’re stuck in the middle, not sure if this team should sneak into the playoffs or go for that draft pick, the answer is playoffs. All in all, even a first-round exit would give this team a solid foundation and building block for a launchpad next season.