BOSTON – Andre Drummond is in a funk. His coaches see it. Opposing teams see it. Anyone with a pair of eyeballs can see it. The trade chatter in recent weeks has crept into Drummond’s head. He’s still putting up solid numbers—a 13-point, 13-rebound, seven assist effort in a win over the Celtics on Wednesday night offers an example—but there’s a lethargy to Drummond’s game that’s obvious to everyone.
The Pistons are crumbling, with injuries to Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson derailing any hope of Detroit building on last season’s postseason berth. The defense stinks, the offense isn’t much better and even Dwane Casey admits the focus now is on developing the handful of promising young players on the roster.
Drummond has a for-sale sign tattooed to his jersey, with the Pistons reportedly canvassing the league for offers. Atlanta was mentioned early, but there is a league-wide feeling that was more ownership driven, with Hawks owner Tony Ressler known to be frustrated by Atlanta’s poor play this season. Other teams have kicked the tires on Drummond, but there has been no traction on a deal to this point, a league source told SI.com.
Drummond is a polarizing player. Critics will say he doesn’t impact winning, evidenced in part by the fact that in Drummond’s eight years in the NBA he hasn’t won much. They will say that in the age of the floor spacing big men, Drummond—with 88 career three-pointers and never more than 38 in a season—is a dinosaur. They will wonder why a team with such a team with such a prolific rebounder ranks in the bottom half of the NBA in rebounding percentage.
And yet, Drummond is a great rebounder. He’s a three-time rebounding champion on pace to add a fourth. He has ranked first in the NBA in defensive win shares in each of the last two seasons. He has led the league in defensive rating in two of the last three. Pistons coaches like him. He’s a good guy who takes coaching. He posted some truly terrible free throw shooting numbers in his first five seasons. In his last three, he has hovered around a respectable 60%.
He hasn’t won anything, but it’s not like the Pistons have been the Midwest Spurs. Drummond has played for Lawrence Frank and Mo Cheeks, John Loyer and Stan Van Gundy. He has had the roster routinely turned over around him and has never played with an elite pick-and-roll player. He’s asked to do a lot defensively, because too often his guards simply die on screens.
The pro-Drummond crowd see a player in need of a change of scenery. There are places Drummond makes sense. Boston has done a remarkable job keeping its defense in the top 10, but Celtics brass knows they need frontcourt help. The Clippers could use a big body. Washington needs a young frontcourt player—Drummond is still just 26—and a long term fix on the glass.
But Drummond’s contract makes him so difficult to deal. He makes $27 million this season. If he opts into his contract this summer—and who knows how he will see the landscape—next season he will make $29 million. There are only a handful of teams with the kind of expiring contracts needed to make a deal like that work, as Detroit has no interest in absorbing any long term salary.
Before February, this summer or next, Drummond will be fascinating to watch. Imagine a player with his skill set energized and engaged. If he can continue to tick his free throw percentage upward. If he can transform a defense with his inside presence. The first half of Andre Drummond’s career has been underwhelming. How the second half goes will depend on where he ends up.
On to this week’s Mailbag …
What’s going to happen with D’Angelo Russell? Does he get traded in February? July? Ever? - Ren, Twitter
Count me among those not shocked by the report that the Timberwolves were hot after Russell. I’ve been saying for months that it could happen.The Wolves coveted Russell last summer, only to see him jilt them when they thought they were in the final stages of recruiting him. Russell’s friendship with franchise tentpole Karl-Anthony Towns is well known, and his presence would stabilize a woefully weak position in Minnesota.
Still—why would Golden State trade Russell now? What could the Timberwolves possibly offer that would entice the Warriors to move Russell in February, when he could be packaged with a lottery pick to get something really good in July? I still think Russell will eventually get moved. But I’d be surprised if it happened before this summer.
With the way Markelle Fultz is playing this year, if you were running the Magic organization, would you try and sign him to an extension this offseason, or do you wait until the summer of 2021 and just march any restricted offer he may get? - Jimmy, Seattle
It’s a good question, Jimmy. Fultz’s recovery has been an unbelievable story. The NBA should bring back the Comeback Player of the Year award just for him. Watching him body LeBron James on Wednesday reminded me that this is a guy that probably has not done much, if any, upper body work over the least two years, because of his shoulder. Imagine how much stronger he will be when he gets in the weight room this summer?
Here’s what I would do if I was in Jeff Weltman’s position: I’d offer Fultz a very team-friendly extension. Maybe he’s interested in long-term security and is willing to take what could be below market rate. But I don’t think there is a downside to waiting until the summer of 2021. As you said—he will be a restricted free agent. The Magic can match any offer, if it came to it. But Fultz seems to have developed a real comfort in Orlando. The Magic have a strong relationship with his agent, Raymond Brothers. I think no matter what happens, Fultz will be in Orlando for years to come.
Do you think Wiz will attempt to resign Davis Bertans or trade him in the next few weeks? He’s due for a huge raise but might be able to net a first round pick. - @BigDracoMMA
There’s a feeling around the league that the Wizards almost have to shop Bertans, if just to see if there is a contender willing to go wild with draft picks to get him. Bertans has been terrific this season, a prolific three-point shooter, jacking up nearly nine per game, who is among the candidates for the NBA’s Most Improved award. He seems like an ideal fit with a John Wall–Bradley Beal backcourt, the kind of frontcourt player who can open up the floor for both.
(An aside: The Wizards are very optimistic about Wall making a full recovery from his latest injury. I watched Wall go through the paces of a pregame workout recently, and he looks close to full strength. It still doesn’t make much sense for Washington to bring him back this season, but I like his chances for making a strong return next fall)
Back to Bertans: There will be a market for him. The Wizards would love to re-sign him, but Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and Washington has been on a fiscal responsibility kick of late. If a team is willing to kick in a first round pick for Bertans, I think they have to move him.
Are the Jazz a real threat to win it all this year? - @JBeatty15
Utah finally seems to have turned a corner. The Jazz have clawed their way back into the top 10 in defensive rating. Rudy Gobert continues to be the most intimidating interior player in the league, Donovan Mitchell is shooting 41% from three this month and Joe Ingles has been terrific as a playmaker. They are starting to look like the team we thought we’d see in the beginning of the season.
I’ve been consistent on Utah’s ceiling: It’s as high as Mike Conley pushes it. Conley hasn’t been what the Jazz hoped. His scoring is down. His field goal percentage is way down. His assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great. Worse, a hamstring injury has kept him out of the lineup since mid-December, preventing him from playing his way out of it.
The Jazz need Conley. They need him to score. They need him to make threes. They need him to be a playmaker. If Conley returns in the next couple of weeks and starts to get a rhythm, Utah will be a team that can get to the conference finals, if not further. If Conley’s season continues to be snake-bitten, I just don’t see the Jazz having enough firepower to advance deep in the playoffs.