The Pistons should stand pat at the trade deadline

A rough start to the season has many Detroit Pistons fans (and members of the national media) pushing for a trade. Detroit should practice patience instead.

As of Monday night, the Detroit Pistons are 2.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference and 3.5 games out of the No. 5 seed. They’re coping with injuries to two starters, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the team’s best defender and most consistent offensive threat. And they’re still searching for consistency now that Reggie Jackson has rounded into form.

It’s been a disappointing season. Detroit’s on pace to fall well short of last season’s 44 wins, and the team is still searching for an identity in January.

There’s only one solution. Blow it up.

To be clear, that’s a joke. Contrary to the beliefs of a panic-stricken Pistons Twitter, this team is not going to tank. Stan Van Gundy still believes in this (very young) core. Pistons owner Tom Gores believes in Van Gundy, too. After eight straight years of bottom dwelling, the organization doesn’t seem too eager to reclaim its seat at the lottery because of one setback season.

This team is not going to tank. This team is not going to tank.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.

It’s at least a bit more reasonable hope for a substantial–but not completely franchise-altering–trade. No, the Pistons can’t swap Andre Drummond for Joel Embiid. No, the Hornets will not gives us Kemba Walker for Reggie Jackson and a pick. And so help me, if I see one more Twitter egg avatar make a case for Derrick Rose

So many of these fan-devised propositions are preposterous, but I can’t blame anyone for looking at this Pistons core and wondering if it might be fundamentally flawed. Even if the organization was interested in swapping their young, still-developing talent for even younger, less developed talent (OK, I’m talking myself out of this already), the remaining question is a tough one: who to keep and who to trade?

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond are likely untouchable:

Stan Van Gundy has openly scoffed at the suggestion that Detroit is looking to trade Reggie Jackson amid ‎the disappointing Pistons’ 18-23 struggles. Yet there’s a growing impression around the league that, at the very least, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has moved past Jackson onto Detroit’s short list of untouchables, alongside Andre Drummond.

Jackson is a popular target of ire, but Detroit would need to get a near All-Star level point guard in return to justify selling their most clutch offensive player. (And no, the Wizards aren’t about to send John Wall our way for Jackson, Aron Baynes and a first-rounder.) Tobias Harris, for all his defensive flaws, might be the team’s most versatile scorer. The organization isn’t ready to give up on Stanley Johnson. Beyond those three guys, there aren’t many available players on this team with a lot of trade value.

Now, if the Pistons were to try to package any combination of Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Aron Baynes for some help at backup shooting guard, that’s a different story. But there’s not a ton of demand for Morris, Bullock is about to be a restricted free agent, and Baynes is almost sure to exercise his player option this summer.

Maybe Van Gundy and Jeff Bower will surprise us with another move at the trade deadline. But the smartest and most reasonable option is the one most Pistons fans are going to hate: standing pat, fighting through this dismal stretch and hoping the team will find some consistency and finish the season strong.

43 games? Not enough time to give this young core a failing grade, even without considering last year’s strong second half, this year’s nagging injuries and all the turmoil the team faced early on with the Ish Smith / Reggie Jackson transition. Even without considering how long it’s been since this team has had reason to hope.

So far, this season has sucked. There’s no way around it. The Pistons have shown flashes of brilliance, couched between long, sad stretches of sloppiness, laziness and flat-out disappointment.

But instead of looking to Philadelphia, where “The Process” seems finally on the verge of yielding competitive results, Detroit fans should take a look up at two teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Charlotte Hornets, after winning 43 games and making the playoffs in 2013-14 in Steve Clifford’s first year, notched only 33 wins in 2014-15. They rebounded last year with 48 wins, pushing the Miami Heat to seven games in a first-round playoff matchup.

Similarly, the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs with 41 wins in 2014-15 during Jason Kidd‘s first year. Last year, they won only 33 games. This season, the Bucks are currently tied for the No. 8 seed, with their best 3-point shooter Khris Middleton projected to return from injury before the season’s end.

Both teams rebounded thanks in part of the development of their young players: Kemba Walker in Charlotte, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee.

There’s no guarantee that this Pistons core is going to be an Eastern Conference competitor in years to come. But despite the pain of the past six weeks, it’s still way too early to pull the plug.

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