When the Pistons traded Ben Gordon and a first-round pick for Corey Maggette, I made pretty clear I hated the trade, but Ben Gordon returning to town with the Bobcats yesterday provided a chance to evaluate the deal with more hindsight.
I still hate it.
And as I’ve considered the trade more, I’ve discovered two new problems I didn’t cover in my initial post.
The Pistons can’t trade a first-round pick, like, ever – or at least until the Bobcats receive the pick they’re owed, and who knows when that will be?*
*As a reminder, here are the protections: lottery-protected in 2013, top-8 protected in 2014, top-1 protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016.
The Pistons can’t trade their 2013 first rounder, because it might already belong to Charlotte. They can’t trade their 2014 first-round pick for the same reason. Or their 2015 or 2016 first rounders.
Heck, they can’t even trade their 2017 first-round pick, because of another rule.
NBA teams must have a first rounder at least every other year into the future, which is called the Stepien rule. Larry Coon explains the rule in more detail here, but here’s the relevant portion for this situation:
When dealing with protected picks, the Stepien rule is interpreted to mean that teams can’t trade a pick if there is any chance it will leave the team without a first round pick in consecutive future drafts.
So, because the Pistons might not have a 2016 first rounder, they can’t trade their 2017 first rounder.
The Pistons could gain flexibility if they acquire another first-round pick – the Stepien rule prevents a team from having consecutive future drafts without a first-round pick, not necessarily its own first-round pick – but until they do, they’re stuck.
So, when you’re proposing trade ideas between now and Feb. 21, don’t include the Pistons’ first-round pick.
Summer of 2013 or bust
The Pistons have to use their cap space this summer. They can’t look at the market, decide there are no value options and defer until next offseason. Otherwise, the entire trade would have been pointless.
Detroit traded the last two years of Gordon’s contract for the final year of Maggette’s, essentially giving themselves cap room one year early. So, if they don’t use that cap room this summer, they’ll look pretty foolish.
Of course, the Pistons could wait until 2014 if they don’t like the 2013 market, and anyone who understands sunk costs would give them at least partial credit for their patience. But I don’t think the Pistons will operate that way.
I think they’ve backed themselves into a corner, where they’re going to spend this money this summer – no matter what.