The Pistons getting Jose Calderon from Toronto in exchange for Tayshaun Prince is essentially a subdued version of Joe Dumars’ trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson in 2008.
Prior to the Iverson trade, the Pistons were headed into the summer of 2009 with a bit of financial flexibility because of expiring contracts to Rip Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace. Trading Billups for Iverson’s expiring deal vaulted them from a team with money to toy with their roster to a team that could potentially add significant pieces to the roster (we won’t talk about how that ended).
This trade does the same thing. The salaries of Calderon and Prince are a bit less, but the principle is the same — the Pistons add another large expiring contract in place of a pricey long-term deal. They were already going to be players on the free agent market, but now they have the ability to add multiple pieces that could quickly take the team from a lottery team to a playoff team if they spend the money wisely (again, try to forget 2009 happened).
However the Pistons spend their money in the offseason, I hope potentially signing Calderon rates higher on their priority list heading into free agency than re-signing Iverson did (stay out of the casinos, Jose, and that will help). This isn’t a criticism of Brandon Knight even though it kind of is. I firmly believe that Calderon, even with some flaws in his game, is a better point guard than Knight can develop into. Calderon’s presence doesn’t mean the team should necessarily cut ties with Knight. In fact, playing with Calderon will create new opportunities for Knight, whether it is as a starting shooting guard or a sixth man who works as a hybrid guard.
When Iverson came to Detroit as a rental, him working was a longshot. The team still considered a contender, and Iverson still considered himself a franchise player. For that trade to work, a team with a strong identity would have to incorporate a strong-willed player whose identity was very different from that of the team. Even if everything went right, Iverson’s talents meshing with how Detroit played was never going to be likely. And when things started going wrong, it obviously became an impossible relationship.
Now, the team is in a different position. The Pistons are not contenders, but a team deficient in several important skills. Calderon is not a star player, he’s a veteran who will command a fairly modest salary (at least by Iverson standards) and exhibits three needed skills (shooting, passing and taking care of the ball) that the Pistons severely lack. So unlike Iverson, at least skill-wise, he should be a seamless fit.
It’s easy to envision Calderon helping virtually every player on the roster. The most obvious example is finding Andre Drummond in the pick and roll. Calderon is a fantastic passer, uses screens well and Drummond, as we know, finishes everything, even the erratic lobs he’s received all season from Pistons guards. Imagine what he’ll do with a guard who is actually a precision passer? Or what Calderon will do playing with a guy who can go up and get even risky or bad passes?
With a shooter like Calderon who hits 39 percent of his 3-pointers for his career, imagine how his presence will make teams pay for collapsing inside on Greg Monroe. Imagine how the offense in general will flourish without defenders being able to cheat underneath screens like they do with Will Bynum or Rodney Stuckey, who teams beg to shoot from outside.
If Lawrence Frank actually has the audacity — asking a lot, I know — to play his best lineup, imagine the many ways a starting five of Calderon, Knight, Singler, Monroe and Drummond could attack offensively. Imagine Monroe being able to operate in the post with three capable perimeter shooters surrounding him and an active cutter in Drummond. Imagine Drummond’s knack for offensive rebounding allowing him to create open looks for those shooters as the defense has to scramble to find them. Imagine a change-of-pace bench that features Bynum, Stuckey, Jerebko and Maxiell just coming into a game and running non-stop.
Those things are all possible because of this trade and because of Calderon’s valuable skills. But the Pistons also help Calderon as well. He has a (deserved) reputation as a bad defensive player. It’s also pretty easy to look like a bad defender as a guard when your rim-protectors are Aaron Gray and Andrea Bargnani. Playing with Drummond behind him will certainly make Calderon seem more competent defensively.
For the first time in a long time, because of Calderon, the Pistons have the potential to have a crisply run offense for more than just fleeting moments. Dumars traded Billups and his skillset without understanding how irreplaceable the things Billups did to make an offense run smoothly truly are. Calderon is certainly not as good a player as Billups, but he’s the first legitimate point guard the Pistons had since. Hopefully this summer, the team remembers just how hard it is to find those skills and takes a hard look at making Calderon more than just an attractive contract.