In what was arguably the most depressing stroke of deadline day, the Cavaliers acquired Andre Drummond from the Pistons in exchange for Brandon Knight, John Henson, and a 2023 second-round pick, according to multiple reports. Drummond, a two-time all-star on track to lead the league in rebounds for the third straight season, holds a player option for 2020 that he had been expected to decline in the interest of testing free agency. The rebuilding Cavaliers bring him in at minimal cost, with Knight and Henson both on expiring contracts, and the value of the ‘23 second relatively minimal. For Detroit, this is the first step in what seems like a forthcoming roster teardown.
Let’s break it down.
Cleveland Cavaliers: B
This move essentially just gives the Cavs some optimized flexibility, brings in a productive player and presents relatively minimal risk for Cleveland. The Cavs predictably had to stay put with an unhappy Kevin Love, whose contract proved somewhat prohibitive given the current market. They’ll now have a three-month window to evaluate Drummond’s fit with Love, and decide if they want to be bidders for his services this summer or walk away. Drummond could still opt in for next season and elect to hit free agency in 2021, when there will be far more cap room available around the league. The Cavaliers acquired Drummond’s bird rights in the deal, and could also look to facilitate a sign-and-trade in the off-season if they decide he’s not part of their future. This is basically a free experiment, and one that comes with some potential asset-value gains even if it goes wrong.
It’s hard to speculate on how the Drummond situation eventually plays out, given the fact there’s simply not a hot market for centers at the moment. A team with an obvious need at center and projected available cap space like the Hornets or Knicks could decide to pay up in free agency if he opts out. If he opts in, it’s not the worst use of Cleveland’s upcoming cap room. The hope for the Cavs has to be either that he’ll stay, or that they can find a way to extract extra value out of his departure. Regardless, dumping expiring contracts and a marginal pick for a player who fills a need if he stays next season is a pretty solid play. Having him on the roster will make them a better team, albeit not that much closer to competing for a playoff spot next year.
As a side note, the Tristan Thompson situation is something to monitor, as he was not traded and reports have indicated the veteran big man was not interested in a buyout on his $18 million expiring contract. If that’s the case, the minutes situation will be thorny in the short term, and Cleveland’s locker room dynamics have been messy all season. Having both on the roster is less than ideal. Regardless, the minimal risk and potential gains here (even if marginal) make Drummond a fairly shrewd addition for the Cavs, for however long that lasts.
Detroit Pistons: D+
This doesn’t really make that much sense from the Pistons’ perspective, if only because Detroit could have held onto him and preserved the same type of sign-and-trade flexibility described above. This deal moves the Pistons out of the luxury tax, which was likely part of the thinking here, and also frees up more playing time for Sekou Doumbouya and Christian Wood, both of whom deserve additional looks. Still, it’s hard to find another silver lining in the logic here. The market for Drummond was obviously pretty dry—it wasn’t like they could reasonably expect to get a first-rounder for him—and it’s hard to knock the Pistons for realizing he wouldn’t be part of their future. Still, the net value in a deal like this appears rather minimal.
Going into the deadline, the expectation had widely been that Drummond would opt out of his deal, which further deflated his trade value. If that were indeed the case, Detroit could simply have let the season play out, offered to help him find a destination, and tried to find a package including at least one player they valued, or at least a real second-rounder (Detroit gets the lesser of Golden State and Cleveland’s 2023 seconds, according to ESPN, which is a bit too far off to guess at in terms of range). If, hypothetically, the situation with Drummond had become untenable to the point where they were sure he would leave this spring, it still makes little sense to give away his bird rights and allow another team—a division rival, no less—the opportunity to try and wean value out of a subsequent transaction. And even if Drummond had decided to opt in for next season, there are other short-term ways out of the luxury tax, and worse things than employing the league’s best rebounder.
In the greater scheme of things, the decision to hang on to older players like Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris—both of whom would have held some appeal to playoff teams—puts the execution here in an even stranger light. The answer has to be (hopefully) that they have some type of plan to better utilize their cap space over the summer, and that Detroit decided it was simply done with Drummond. The market here was certainly tricky, and it’s possible this move was also made with locker-room optics in mind moving forward. Regardless, moving your most productive player for next to nothing, circumstances aside, is never ideal.