The sensibility of trade deadline inaction

The Pistons didn’t make a trade at the trade deadline. I don’t consider that fact a positive or negative statement.

I spent parts of the afternoon and evening trying to express in the comments that the sky isn’t falling because the Pistons couldn’t find a team willing to give up anything of significance for two of the league’s most artful plankers.

Basically, like any fan, I love the trade deadline. It’s exciting, particularly for a franchise that needs an infusion of talent like the Pistons do. But I also understand the trade deadline for what it is: an opportunity to convince desperate teams to do stupid things. The New Jersey Nets were so desperate to add a player with name recognition to maybe coax Deron Williams into sticking around that they traded a top-3 protected pick this year for Gerald Wallace and the remaining two years on his contract. That trade could realistically, depending on how New Jersey finishes, turn into something like trading Harrison Barnes for Gerald Wallace. Would anyone in their right mind do that? Well, trading deadlines to crazy things to people.

The Spurs were so willing to get out of the final year of Richard Jefferson’s contract (a ridiculous contract that the normally very shrewd Spurs organization signed him to, incidentally), that they gave up a first round pick this year to do it. Now, the Spurs will be a playoff team, so they won’t be giving up a lottery talent just to shed salary, but still … the Spurs are old. They could use young players. That’s certainly not as crazy as what New Jersey did, but it’s still a tough price to pay to simply shed a year off a contract to an under-performing player.

What does this have to do with the Pistons? Well, the Pistons could’ve been one of those ‘panic deadline move’ candidates. Joe Dumars, who used to be known for frequent trades, hasn’t made one in a really long time, much longer than any other team in the league has gone without making a deal, in fact. He’s in charge of a team that has an apathetic fanbase that is tired of losing, that is tired of a roster that, remarkably, hasn’t turned over all that much over the last three losing seasons with the exception of adding new draft picks each year. Dumars isn’t exactly the most popular guy in town anymore either, routinely getting flamed on local sports radio even if he remains pretty unscathed in the Detroit print media. Making a move just to make a move is often a tactic GMs employ to take a bit of heat off themselves. Basically, the Pistons have a good mix of issues that made them a team that could potentially do something rash at the trade deadline.

The consensus I’m getting from the readers who are commenting here and elsewhere is that the worst outcome from trading deadline day was not doing anything. I just don’t agree with that. To me, the worst outcome would’ve been doing something stupid. The best outcome, obviously, would’ve been making a great trade. It’s pretty rare to make a fantastic trade at the deadline, though, and the Pistons certainly were a longshot to do it if they rightly weren’t willing to include someone from the Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight, 2012 first rounder group.

I think most everyone would agree that it would be nice if the Pistons could’ve freed themselves from a long-term contract, particularly Ben Gordon‘s or Charlie Villanueva‘s, for a shorter term one. But it’s just nearly impossible to move expensive contracts to under-performing players without also including an asset to entice the other team or taking an equally bad deal back. Many Pistons fans would happily love to imagine a roster without Gordon and/or Villanueva on it. But if the price to do that was that the roster would also lose Monroe, Knight, Stuckey, the 2012 pick or Jonas Jerebko to do it? I think that changes the discussion a little bit.

The downside to taking a bad deal back in return is that you lose the ability to amnesty that player. So, say you take a certain controversial but occasionally talented and signed long-term big man from Washington hoping that the new environment will turn him around. Say he gets here, and it doesn’t turn him around or he gets worse. Now, you’re stuck with him and because you traded for him, you can’t amnesty him to get rid of him and it’s even harder to trade him because now he’s on team No. 2 that couldn’t make it work with him.

Dumars reportedly had interest from other teams in certain players. But, unlike last year when the Prince to Dallas for Butler/first round pick proposal leaked, we don’t have specifics. It is beyond crazy to me to judge not making a deal as a failure when we don’t even have a ballpark idea of what teams were offering for Detroit’s players. If it turns out Dumars turned down something useful for one of the non-young asset players on the team, then sure, criticize away. But honestly, the right decision (and not an easy one, considering the vocal fanbase that wants to see SOMETHING happen) might have been turning down whatever offers he did receive.

None of this is meant to make excuses for Dumars, either. Joe Dumars can’t trade the players he’s signed to bad contracts because he’s the one who signed them to bad contracts. He doesn’t have more young assets right now because he gave two away (Arron Afflalo and Amir Johnson) prematurely and botched his first two picks in the 2009 draft. The sale of the team certainly hindered his ability to make moves, but the team was undoubtedly in a bad position because he paid too much money for too limited players who played too similar positions and hired a coach who handled a mismatched roster and divided locker room about as poorly as anyone could handle it. Those things are all part of Dumars’ history as much as the fantastic teams he built and the title he won. You take the good with the bad and own them both.

But none of that is new information, either. It was all information that was available when Tom Gores bought the team. Gores is a businessman who I’m sure understands the financial aspect of this team — that it has invested in expensive players who have lost value. He sought advice from basketball people outside the organization who, no doubt, offered their opinions as to what it would take to fix. I think everyone pretty much agreed last summer that the Pistons were simply not going to be fixed in one season, certainly not when a lockout wiped out the offseason and a coaching search was also a lengthy part of the process. With all of that information, Gores still decided to retain Dumars to do the job.

I am not forgetting Dumars’ recent history that helped cause the current state of this team. But I’m also not forgetting this summer, when it was clear to me that the Pistons were not going to be headed in a better direction talent-wise and money-wise until at least the 2012 offseason. That would’ve been the case whether Dumars was the GM or someone else was starting last summer. I think the reaction to not making a trade today is largely stemming from anger about the poor moves he’s made that have hurt the team rather than a rational understanding that there probably wasn’t much of value that could be done at this moment.

I don’t have a passionate case for or against keeping Dumars, but I do think today’s criticism has been unfair. Last season, when he reportedly had a credible offer that made sense — dealing Prince for an extra first round pick — the criticism was fair. The Pistons were rebuilding and rebuilding teams spin veteran players into extra picks all the time. This year though? It’s at least as likely that the Pistons only received poor offers that wouldn’t help their future as it is Dumars passed on something credible that would’ve helped the team. Until it is reported concretely that he passed on a good offer, I just can’t get offended by his inaction today.

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Tags: Austin Daye Ben Gordon Brandon Knight Charlie Villanueva Greg Monroe Jonas Jerebko Lawrence Frank Rodney Stuckey Tayshaun Prince Will Bynum

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