It must be . . . interesting . . . to play for Stan Van Gundy. On the one hand, you never have to worry about being blindsided because your coach/GM publicly said there were no plans to trade you, only to wake up to find you have to go apartment/house hunting in a new city. On the other hand, your coach is publicly saying that anyone on the team is available, for the right offer.
He’s looking at you, Reggie, Andre and KCP.
Especially you, Reggie.
For most of the last month, the rumors have swirled that Reggie Jackson would move before the trade deadline. Jackson for Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio was the first, a straight PG for PG swap that might have given both starters an opportunity to have a resurgence with a change of scenery. Beyond that, there would have been little point to the trade, and it would have been a loss for Reggie, since Kris Dunn is the PG of the near future for the Timberwolves. SVG gave a classic rant in not denying that a conversation may have taken place, but dismissing that it was a serious conversation.
The more persistent rumor had Reggie going to Orlando in exchange for some combination of players and picks, including either DJ Augustin or Elfrid Payton. The suggested return inspired no daydreams of a deep playoff run (I see a lot more positive in a Rubio trade).
The trade deadline passed. Our team remained intact.
SVG acknowledged that every player is on the trading block, which is probably as it should be. As the deadline approached, however, the news leaked that the price for Reggie would be a first round pick, a young player, AND an expiring contract. This information raises several possibilities:
- SVG really values Reggie that highly (and, for some reason, also highly values DJ Augustin)
- We should be glad that SVG wasn’t shopping – if he thinks Reggie is worth that, I’d shudder to think what he’d give up for Kyrie, Wall, Lowry – you know, the PG’s in the EAST who would rank above Reggie.
- Most likely, SVG knew that a trade wasn’t going to happen, at least not one that would have put them in a better position to secure or advance their playoff chances. Since the PG has been hearing for weeks that he might be playing in a new zip code, morale might be low – so why not float a little information that says, “Hey, only if they would give up your true value, buddy!” Doesn’t matter if he would have made a deal for less – it just matters that your floor general feels valued.
While the Minnesota rumor would have made the most sense for the Pistons – the players are of relatively equal value, and Rubio’s style may have helped open plays for everyone else on the court – if SVG really was looking for that kind of return, he’s really looking for a draft night or other off-season trade. Since the Orlando situation was generating the most smoke, I’m glad that nothing happened: there was simply nothing in the return that gives the team any more than Reggie does down the stretch. Draft picks can be tough to evaluate at the trade deadline: sure, it looks like Brooklyn’s pick (controlled by Boston) should be high, since the team is a “mess” in the most Trumpian sense; but, say a trade to Orlando actually benefitted Orlando and the team rose in the standings, then their pick loses value as the players show their value in a new environment. And while Reggie hasn’t gelled with the rest of the team since coming back from injury, he and Andre were why we had such high hopes coming into this season. The Pistons currently have the 8th seed in the East, so the team controls its own post-season fate; Reggie has two months to show SVG and the fans that PG is not an area of need, that we have our own potential Lowry waiting to explode – and not the second coming of Brandon Jennings.
And with a home game against a struggling Hornets team right after the All Star break, Reggie was set up to show SVG that the trade he didn’t make was the right choice. Right?
The Pistons showed up – in the fourth quarter and OT. Reggie started, and while he only scored one point less than Ish Smith (4 to 5), the team was clearly better when Ish was on the floor, as evidenced by his 16 assists – the highest total by a Piston since Isiah roamed the hardwood. While the team flow was better with Ish on the floor, the hero of the game was clearly KCP, who was unworldly with the game on the line.
In my mind, the PG needs to have the best vision on the court. I don’t necessarily believe that a PG needs to be “pass first” – he simply needs to have the vision to see if anyone has an open shot, or the ability to create his own shot. That ability to get creative helps with the first, since shots may open up for others when the opposing team knows the PG can score at will. I was happy when the Pistons signed Ish Smith – just always liked him – but ideally he’s our backup, because he doesn’t have the same offensive skill set that Reggie does.
The problem may be that while the personnel is much the same as the team that made Cleveland work for the sweep in last year’s playoffs, the way the team plays has changed. Last year, the core was Reggie and Andre, and we assumed that they would continue to improve. They didn’t. Sure, Andre is still one of the best centers in the East, but that says more about the state of the big man than it does about Andre’s game; when last season began, we raved about Andre’s 20-20 games, but this year we’re seeing double-doubles. While Drummond has dipped, Marcus Morris has been one of our more reliable options, Jon Leuer has delivered above realistic expectations, and Tobias Harris is giving starting level production coming off the bench. KCP is earning his status as “untouchable,” adding a little more offense to what was already a great defensive game (if SVG wanted a 1st and two players for Reggie, any buyer would get sticker shock to see how he values KCP).
What’s odd is that the team around Reggie and Drummond got better – and so far, they haven’t. In the next seven weeks, Reggie needs to focus on making the players around him better (especially Andre), something Ish does well. More than acquiring players or picks, the Pistons need to get back the PG who led them into the playoffs in 2016. If they can get that Reggie back, they might even move into the 7th or 6th seed, avoid Cleveland in the opening round, and have a better chance to shake things up.