As NBA fans and fantasy basketball players we all lust for the power of NBA general managers. Many of us wrongly assume we could do a better job heading our favorite team’s basketball operations—it isn’t hard to get those ideas if you happen to be a Knicks, Magic, Timberwolves, Suns, or Kings fan. But what we long for as much as the power, is the seriousness of the endeavor. NBA GM’s get to make decisions that carry weight. A draft pick is quite simply a choice—a highly public, decade-defining choice in some cases, but a choice all the same. We make choices every day—the blue or the red tie, Toyota Camry or Nissan Altima, Fleabag or The Good Place, two drinks or twelve, poetry or literally anything else that might actually pay the bills. We make applicable sports decisions as well. We choose between Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard in our fantasy draft, we add Kendrick Nunn or Davis Bertans off the wire, we kill Russell Westbrook in the group chat, we build property on Julius Randle, Dion Waiters, or Lonzo Ball Island. We tweet, we engage, and we argue. We win our league or we don’t. In time, we are either vindicated or pilloried. At best, we have a lighthearted thing to lord over people we care about, at worst, we have to dye our hair, wear ugly ill-fitting clothes, or in a more recent trend, consume enough waffles to avoid sleeping in a Waffle House. But largely, no one notices or cares, as our sports opinions are indiscernible dots in a sea of data points.
This is not true of NBA general managers. Every decision they make is linked to a decision they, or their predecessor made. Every decision they make will affect a future decision they have yet to make. Literal millions of dollars are on the line. On top of the millions, the whims of a (likely) ego-driven, obsessive, unpredictable billionaire. Talk about stakes. Isn’t that what some part of so many of us wants? Deep down in all our evil, narcissistic, unexplored crevices? Secretly, or not so secretly, many of us long to matter, long to make an impact, to be seen or heard even in some small fleeting way. That desire can manifest itself for good or not. Left unchecked it can be dangerous, but I’d argue it exists to some degree in all of us. We want the power and the stakes that come with being an NBA general manager because it’s an opportunity for praise and prestige on a fairly large scale. It’s an opportunity for stories of your genius to spread across one niche corner of the internet like spilled ink, seeping into the minds of fervent NBA fans. This is no doubt a part of our interest in fantasy basketball, since we don’t have the time, genuine interest, or obsessive compulsion to commit to proving to the world how smart we are. We settle for sticking it to Tim in accounting, who once said that Draymond Green was a fraud. We try to fleece Janet from HR in a trade because she’s a salty Cavs fan who idiotically insists that Kobe was better than LeBron. Rather than get all worked up and resort to fisticuffs, we incessantly check our league standings and smirk when we see Brett from marketing at the bottom of the standings, because we know that’s exactly where Brett belongs.
All that to say, because I’m all too familiar with the longings I described above, I’ve decided to play GM for the Detroit Pistons for the 2019-20 trade deadline. The Pistons have not begun a rebuild, but the current trade deadline is their first opportunity to embrace that process. Why rebuild, why now? Well, Blake Griffin just “underwent a successful arthroscopic debridement of his left knee and no timetable has been set for his return.” (I’m not sure any Blake Griffin surgery should be described as successful at this point in his career.) Andre Drummond is playing on an expensive contract and is up for a new, more expensive contract. Drummond is a monster rebounder, he’s improved his free throw shooting to semi-respectable levels, he can score a little, and he will accrue defensive stats, but he’s a better fantasy player than a real NBA player. There has been very little indication that his shot blocking numbers (1.9 a game this season) equate to good defense. Drummond has only once been named to the All-NBA third team. Until proven otherwise, he’s empty calories. Derrick Rose is on a favorable contract with one more guaranteed year after this season, making him enticing to teams looking for a more long-term solution at backup point guard. Sekou Doumbouya is playing and playing well. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is shooting the ball exceptionally well at 43 percent on 4.3 attempts a game. Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier, and Christian Wood are on expiring contracts. Khyri Thomas and Bruce Browns’ contracts are non-guaranteed next season and Svi’s on a team option next year. The Pistons will have, if they are smart, a massive amount of flexibility next season. The table is fully set for a reset in Detroit.
Blake Griffin: I’m sure there might be one or two semi-reasonable trade options for Blake Griffin, but considering Griffin has two years left on his contract—$36 million next year and a $38 million player option the following year—and just underwent another knee surgery, it seems incredibly unlikely anyone would trade for him this season. Once upon a time, maybe a Blake Griffin for Chris Paul, bad contract for bad contract deal might have been possible. That time has passed. Paul has shown he’s the true “Time Lord” with his play so far this season. Also, how many draft picks do the Thunder really need?
Derrick Rose: Rose, in my humble opinion, is the most tradeable asset on the roster. He’s been the team’s best player this season, showing a lot of the verve from his MVP years and checking enough efficiency boxes to assuage any fears about what a change in situation might do to his play. This year Rose is averaging 17.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.9 steals, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 33 percent from three, and 87.8 percent from the line. Rose has a 31.4 percent usage rate according to Basketball Reference, so you might even be able to convince yourself Rose’s three-point shooting would improve with a role reduction. Rose is shooting 40 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this season, according to NBA.com.
Interestingly, the reasons Rose is a perfect trade candidate are the same reasons he might not get traded—he’s good and on a favorable contract. He’ll make $7,682,927 next year. Even if the Pistons pivot to a full rebuild, Derrick Rose can help draw fans to the stadium and maybe even conjure enough magic to win a few extra games next season, helping stave off some of the tanking stank that haunts rebuilding teams—low attendance, losing, complete lack of fan interest.
Best Possible Trades: Derrick Rose for Bogdan Bogdanovic
The Kings likely wouldn’t make this trade, though it’s not completely indefensible. Bogdanovic seems unhappy with his role in Sacramento. It’s clear he believes he should be starting and would like to start, he would have that opportunity in Detroit. Depending on what the Kings value and think they can get in free agency, they might prefer holding on to Bogdanovic, giving themselves the opportunity to match anything but a poisonous contract he signs in restricted free agency. Derrick Rose would slide neatly into Bogdanovic’s role, presumably with less fuss. The Kings clearly want to make the playoffs and Rose’s veteran mastery could help in that regard. The Pistons are in desperate need of an upgrade at the point guard position. Reggie Jackson is hurt and he wasn’t all that good when he was healthy. Bogdanovic is young enough to grow with the Pistons as they rebuild and proven enough to be an upgrade over Jackson. If the Pistons are desperate enough, they could throw in one or even multiple second round picks. They would likely be able to acquire second round picks in other trades to make up for the outgoing ones.
Assuming the Magic know better than to trade future picks to prop up this current version of Orlando Magic mediocrity, this trade walks a fine line between present and future concerns. I can’t imagine the Magic giving up on Bamba this early, but Rose would provide them with the playmaking they are desperately in need of and Galloway can approximate Terrence Ross’ production as a spacer. This trade probably doesn’t make enough sense for either team to get done, but it makes the most “win now” sense for the Magic. In the end though, trading Bamba this early seems short sighted and even though Ross is likely a little over paid, he’s been better and more reliable than Galloway over the course of his career. Not to mention Galloway will be looking for a raise himself. For the Pistons, the deal makes sense because they get upside in Bamba and proven production in Ross. Even with Ross’ less than ideal contract, you have to use the majority of your cap space anyway, so there’s little to lose on that front for the Pistons.
Derrick Rose for DJ Augustin
This trade makes some sense. As I just mentioned, the Magic need shot creation and Rose can give them plenty of that. His contract is palatable and since he’s locked in for another year, he’s more than a rental. The Magic could enter next season ready to take another shot at the Eastern Conference playoffs with a healthy and improved Jonathan Isaac, a blossoming Markelle Fultz, and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose. There might be some fit concerns with Fultz and Rose since both are subpar three-point shooters, but look at their roster, that’s nothing new for the Magic. This deal makes almost no sense for the Pistons unless there is a first-round pick included. Augustin is on an expiring contract and Rose is not. Rose is better than Augustin. Rose sells tickets, Augustin doesn’t.
I imagine both versions of this trade would need to include a first-round pick from the Sixers. I think Rose has played well enough for the Pistons to convince themselves that barring an otherwise exceptional offer, they won’t trade Rose without receiving a first-round pick. The Sixers are clearly in win now mode and don’t expect their first-round picks to be any good for the next few seasons, making their picks slightly more expendable, in theory. The Sixers would get the additional shot-creation they need. Rose could steady the waters for the Sixers—there’s a clear sense of angst in the locker room and amongst the fan base, Joel Embiid has a torn ligament in his finger and will be out for at least a week, and the questions about the Embiid and Ben Simmons fit never seem to stop. This is an all upside trade for the Pistons. Once upon a time people were high on Zhaire Smith, maybe he can return to form in Detroit. Jonah Bolden is not without talent and still young at 24 years old. In a situation where the stakes are significantly lower, maybe he makes good on his stretch big potential. No matter what, the Pistons get their nugget of gold in the form of a first-round pick regardless of how the players in the deal develop.
Rose in LA
Rose would be a natural fit on the Lakers but the Lakers don’t have much to trade. The Clippers seem like a less optimal fit for Rose since his ball-dominant style of play might clash with the other ball-dominant stars on the team. The Clippers already have a better version of Rose in Lou Williams.
Andre Drummond: I’ve detailed the Andre Drummond situation already, but here are a few more specifics: Drummond makes $27 million this year and has a player option for $28 million next year. His high salary can cut both ways in a deal. If teams have bad contracts on their books, the Pistons could be willing to accept those contracts as long as draft picks are included. On the other hand, if a team has a clean cap sheet and is uninterested in moving their better players, it might difficult to match salaries for a Drummond trade.
Andre Drummond to the Hawks
This deal could take any number of forms. The Hawks could trade Jabari Parker, Evan Turner, and future draft pick(s) to the Pistons for Drummond. They could also just salary dump Chandler Parsons and include pick(s). But it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a rebuilding team like the Hawks to send out picks. They purposely acquired bad contracts in exchange for assets in part, to facilitate exactly this sort of scenario, but they could also just sign Drummond outright in the summer without giving up anything. There isn’t a whole lot of upside for the Pistons with this trade, but if the market is unkind, maybe two second-round picks are better than losing Drummond for nothing?
Andre Drummond to the Hornets
The problem with Drummond is that the teams best equipped to trade for him are also the ones most likely to sign him this summer if he doesn’t pick up his player option. The Charlotte Hornets are another one of those teams. Like the Hawks, they can facilitate this trade in a number of ways. They can salary dump Nicolas Batum or match salaries with Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Biyombo and Marvin Williams. A combination of Cody Zeller and Gilchrist or Zeller and Williams would also work. It’s an indictment of the Hornets that they have so many ways to make a trade for a player like Andre Drummond work. But again, why would the Hornets send out picks in the middle of a rebuild when they can sign Drummond outright in the summer. Drummond is unique in the sense that his warts as a player make it unlikely that a contender will come calling, giving the typically unappealing free-agent destinations a fair shot for once.
Andre Drummond to the Knicks, Mavs, or Suns
There are workable trades for Drummond to the Knicks, Mavericks, and Suns but none of them really make much sense to me. Any Knicks trade worth considering for the Pistons would likely include Julius Randle, who is the team’s best of a million power forwards (I’m considering Marcus Morris a small forward.) Any Mavs trade would likely include Dwight Powell, who has been an integral piece of their success and whose mobility neither Drummond, Maxi Kleber, or Kristaps Porzingis can duplicate. Anything other than an exchange of expiring contracts between the Pistons and Suns would have to include Deandre Ayton and that would be a shocking development from the Phoenix front office. It also seems like a step backward in terms of asset management, since Ayton feels like the younger, cheaper Andre Drummond.
Andre Drummond to the Hornets, but different
The craziest trade I researched was a three-team trade between the Pistons, Hornets, and Clippers. The Hornets would send out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Bismack Biyombo, with Biyombo and Gilchrist going to the Pistons, and Williams going to the Clippers. The Hornets would receive Andre Drummond, Maurice Harkless, and Jerome Robinson. I imagine the Pistons would have to receive a first-round pick from one of the other two teams in the deal. The first would likely come from the Clippers since they still have excess picks, which likely means the deal would never happen since it doesn’t make sense to give up two players and a pick for Marvin Williams. Maybe the Hornets would be willing to give up a future first to just about guarantee Drummond signed with them in the offseason, however. The Hornets have been known to obsessively chase the 8th seed in the East and this deal helps with that this season and in future seasons, especially if Drummond were to pick up his option.