Why the Pistons and Cavaliers Need to Become Sellers Before the NBA Trade Deadline

With the NBA nearing the midpoint of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons may have the most to gain by rebuilding their squads.
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The Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline is less than a month away, but so far during the 2019-20 season, the league has seen only one deal—a pre-Christmas trade moving Jordan Clarkson from the Cavaliers to the Jazz.

A look at the standings might explain why so few trades have happened thus far and might indicate what kind of deadline is coming up. Entering Wednesday night’s action, five teams in the Eastern Conference are within 5.5 games of each other, fighting for the conference’s final two playoff spots. In the West, seven teams are within four games of each other and currently jockeying for the conference’s No. 8 seed. The Pelicans, for instance, have the second-worst record in the conference, but are still very much in the race. Additionally, it’s unlikely that any of the teams that squeak into the No. 8 seed could compete with the team at the top of their respective conferences.

Maybe the number of teams jostling for playoff position will lead to countless rumors and potential splash trades, as teams hungry for a rare postseason appearance, like the Kings, Suns and Hornets will look to increase their ceilings. Just as likely perhaps, fewer teams will be interested in dealing members of their core, wanting instead to stay in the race—both in terms of this year and the future—and not help their opponents leapfrog them. Two teams, however, are prime candidates to unload some of their assets.

Detroit Pistons

On Jan. 7, the Pistons announced that Blake Griffin underwent surgery on his left knee and was out indefinitely. At the time, Detroit was 13-24 and 10 in the conference. In the days since, it’s lost three of its first four games without the former All-Star. But Griffin’s injury has only further exacerbated why Detroit should be sellers at the deadline. They have two seemingly obvious trades that could put them in a better position going forward.

A possible Andre Drummond trade would likely recoup some worthwhile assets, but questions about Drummond’s future might impact any kind of return. The UConn product has a nearly $30 million player option this summer and could test free agency if he opts out. He’s indicated that he’ll likely opt-out of his current deal if he remains with Detroit and has said nothing publicly about a potential free-agency decision if he were in fact moved. More than likely, however, Detroit wouldn’t want to lose the 26-year-old center for nothing. Rumors have swirled around a possible trade to Atlanta. Charlotte is another destination that makes some possible sense as the Hornets could potentially sneak into the postseason if they acquire the elite rebounder. A handful of other teams have reportedly registered some interest.

But even more obvious than a Drummond trade is a deal involving former league MVP Derrick Rose. Rose, now a 31-year-old reserve, is averaging 17.8 points and 5.8 assists in nearly 26 minutes off the bench. He also has a career-best 41.9 assist percentage. His cap hit this year is just over $7 million, and he’s on the books for a shade over that next year. He can certainly help a playoff team.

A number of the team’s 24-and-under pieces are also starting to jell and form a semblance of a young core, namely Bruce Brown, Christian Wood and Luke Kennard. Throw in Svi Mykahuiliuk, who is shooting just over 42% on catch-and-shoot threes and Sekou Doumbouya, the league’s youngest player who has also started showing occasional flashes of his potential, and the Pistons should look to get younger.

Rose is unlikely to fit into the team’s long-term plan, and teams in need of guard depth, perhaps the Lakers, could use his playmaking. Don’t be shocked if Detroit’s roster looks different come Feb. 7. Drummond and Rose might not be Pistons much longer, especially if the team looks to create a healthier long-term future.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Not a lot has gone right in Cleveland this season. The Cavs have won only 12 games, seen a player’s frustration boil over onto the court and heard other players say that their new coach has already “lost” the team. That same coach, John Beilein, was also in the news for all the wrong reasons last week. But despite their struggles, the Cavaliers do have some potential assets at the trade deadline buyers would be interested in.

They’ve already dealt Clarkson to the Jazz, but Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson remain as potential trade centerpieces. There’s been plenty of speculation regarding Love through the first 40 games of the season. And despite being 31 years old and missing more than 80 games over the last three seasons, Love can offer spacing to allow a team to go small and can still matchup with a big. He’s averaging 17 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Plus, while he recently re-emphasized that he loves playing alongside his Cavaliers teammates, who’s to say he wouldn’t like playing with the Blazers more. Portland is often the target of Love trade rumors, but Phoenix could also be a destination if the franchise desperately wants to make its first postseason appearance since 2009-10.

Thompson might be tougher to trade. He is an expiring contract and has an $18 million price tag this year. He’s still in the top 10 of the NBA in terms of rebounds per game and at 28-years-old, he’s averaging a career-high 13 points per contest. He could certainly help a contender looking to make a playoff run. Even if he remains a Cavalier through the early Feb. deadline, he’s a likely buyout candidate. Cleveland will look to continue developing its young players, and neither big is likely part of the franchise’s long-term future. The Cavs don’t have a ton of desirable trade assets, but they have at least two veterans most teams would likely want at the right price.