Why Pistons traded for Marvin Bagley III, when could have gotten him for nothing

Detroit Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III (35). Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III (35). Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons trading for Marvin Bagley III befuddled some NBA experts. If they just waited a couple of months, they could probably have simply signed Bagley as a free agent. So why give players and draft picks to the Kings, when you don’t have to?

It is a pretty simple supposition: If you could get the exact same thing for free, why would you pay for it? But the Pistons decided they preferred expediency over a freebie.

Detroit at the trade deadline gave up Josh Jackson, Trey Lyles and two future second-round draft picks for Bagley III, who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

It was no secret that Marvin Bagley III and the Sacramento Kings organization were not on the same page. The current Kings front office and coaching staff were not around when they passed over Luka Doncic and Trae Young to select Bagley as the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Bagley III was moved out of the starting lineup this season, which he was not happy about. When he did play, basically Bagley was told to stand in the corner on offense, even though his low-post moves are the best part of his game.

There was no way Sacramento was offering Bagley a new deal, which means he would have become an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Any NBA team could then sign Bagley, and not have to give the Kings any compensation.

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Considering the Pistons have more salary cap space projected than any other team, they could easily outbid any team for the Duke product, particularly since the bidding probably would not have been that high.

So what were the Detroit Pistons thinking?

John Hollinger, a former executive with the Memphis Grizzlies, in The Athletic (PAID SUBSCRIPTION NEEDED) gave the Pistons his ‘What are we doing here?’ award. He was confounded you would trade two players and two draft picks for a guy you could get in the summer, and not give up anything (except money).

It’s not like Detroit gave up some massive haul, like the 76ers did for James Harden. Jackson’s contract was expiring and Trey Lyles was a role player, but both certainly would have been helpful to have the rest of the season. Lyles was also on a very team-friendly contract, brining him back would have cost very little.

Hollinger was most puzzled why Detroit was giving up the draft picks. Detroit is not like Oklahoma City with like 50 draft picks owed them in the coming years. The Pistons have used draft picks in a lot of their trades, so not a whole lot are left. To give two picks, albeit second-rounders, is a pretty high price to pay for a player who might only be around for 28 games.

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In his post-trade deadline press conference, Detroit general manager Troy Weaver explained he thought it was worth the cost to get an up close look at Bagley before he hits the free agent market, according to Omari Sankofa II of the Free Press.

"“We wanted to bring him in the fold,” Weaver said. “Touch him, feel him, work with him and know how he fits as a person and as a player instead of just waiting for free agency. I always believe in getting guys in-house, similar to what we did with (Hamidou) Diallo. We like guys to come in and get within the walls, assimilate in the locker room, find out who they really are before we take a real investment in them. That was the thought process of trying to get him in here before free agency.”"

Ironically, if Bagley plays well, it will drive up his price and the Pistons will have to pay more to retain him. On the other hand, if Bagley truly looks like a bust, Detroit can simply walk away, and be glad they are not going to waste a long-term deal on him.

You could say Weaver is sort of treating Bagley like he was buying a car, kicking the tires and giving it a test drive, before committing to buying it.

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Whether this trade works out won’t be determined for a while, as it depends on Bagley’s play and if he returns next season. But, while Weaver is usually praised for his moves, this is one that has some doubters.