Trade could help Pistons make quantum leap

December 20, 2012

Special to

It's the purgatory of sports.

The Pistons aren't good enough to win an NBA title, but not bad enough to get a top draft pick.

Take a look at the history of the NBA. Most of the time, you need to be really, really bad before you get really, really good.

Just four seasons before winning the title last year, the Miami Heat won 15 games.

Four years before the Lakers won back-to-back championships, Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen led Los Angeles to a 34-48 record.

The Celtics won the 2008 title by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Before those mega-trades, Doc Rivers' team won 24 games.

Even the dynastic Spurs scraped the bottom of the barrel first. The season before Tim Duncan came to town, San Antonio was 20-62.

As difficult as these last few years have been for the Pistons, they've never really bottomed out. Consequently, while other teams selected the likes of Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis during the past three drafts, Detroit settled for good-but-not-great picks: Andre Drummond (ninth overall in 2012), Brandon Knight (eighth in 2011), and Greg Monroe (seventh in 2010).

When you're picking in the middle to late parts of the lottery, sometimes you hit big. Most of the time, you get good -- maybe very good -- players but not usually franchise-makers.

The other truth about the NBA is that you need at least one superstar to win. Think LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh ... Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal ... Garnett, Allen and Pierce ... Duncan and Tony Parker.

Whom on the Pistons belongs in that group of talent? The answer is nobody.

Other than tanking the season or getting lucky in the lottery, how can the Pistons ever make the quantum leap to true contender?

The time has come for Joe Dumars to be bold, creative and decisive. We all know the team president was hamstrung during the years following owner Bill Davidson's death.

That was then; this is now.

Detroit tried getting way under the NBA salary cap and ended up signing Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon. That didn't work so well.

Dumars must realize that Detroit isn't among the top destinations for free agents. They want to live in good weather or play for a ready-made winner. The Pistons provide neither of those.

That's where creativity must come in. Make a trade to improve the talent level.

The Pistons have some up-and-coming players: Monroe, Knight and Kyle Singler. But how good can these guys eventually be?  

Monroe's lack of athleticism is evident on a nightly basis. This isn't his fault. He works very hard and is probably the best player on the team. He's probably not a franchise player, though.

Knight was a pleasant surprise last year, starting nearly the whole season. This fall, he showed up with extra muscle at training camp, and he's been pretty durable. His play has been a bit up-and-down, though. Again, a good player, but liklely not an All-Star.

Singler has certainly surpassed all expectations. The former Duke Blue Devil was a second-round pick two years ago, played a year in Spain, and has earned a starting spot at shooting guard. (He also makes great trick-shot videos.) But look at the other two-guards in the league and tell me whom he rates ahead of.

Drummond represents Detroit's best chance at greatness. He's physically imposing and seems to be improving by the week. You can't teach size, and I'd make the argument that he's the one potential superstar on the current roster. He's untouchable in a deal.

The Pistons also have some solid veterans. Corey Maggette's $10.9 million expiring contract could play huge in a trade. Tayshaun Prince would have value for a good team. Will Bynum could be a serviceable backup to an established point guard.

So what should Dumars do?  

The most likely way to acquire championship talent is through a trade, and he's got some chips to play with. Let's be real, though, it's not like he can trade Monroe for Kevin Durant, but we've always heard how Dumars leaves no stone unturned.

Totally speculating here, how about something like this?

The Pistons trade Monroe, Stuckey and a No. 1 pick to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette.

This might sound one-sided, but consider that the Kings are going nowhere. (Well, that might not be true. They might be moving to Virginia, but that's another story.)  

This would allow Sacramento to dump Cousins -- who seems to get suspended every other week -- for a stable, very good player in Monroe.

Evans is a restricted free agent after this year, and his stock has fallen steadily since his rookie year. By trading him for Stuckey, the Kings would have a solid guard who gets to the basket and has two years left on his contract.

Fredette has been a collosal disappointment since being drafted 10th overall two years ago. Getting a guaranteed lottery pick for him is a great opportunity.

No, Cousins doesn't fit Dumars' type of blue-collar player. Yes, he has enormous maturity issues. But he's talented.

Is there a possibility that Cousins never “gets it” and the move ends up totally imploding? Absolutely. But the Pistons would be contractually tied to him for just two years, then could start over again.

Evans is a talented player without a real position. Watch him play the rest of the season, and if Dumars likes what he sees, maybe he's someone to build around. If not, Evans isn't your problem anymore.

As for Fredette, well, he might be entertaining.

The point is, this might not be THE trade the Pistons need to make. It's just an example of the approach Dumars should take.

He might have to make a trade based on a feeling. He might overpay.

Based on history, though, if the Pistons end up with a guy who turns into a superstar, it's worth it.