The Pistons have received a fair amount of criticism over the offseason, and it is mostly not unfounded. After all, they were a pretty bad team last year and also not much fun to watch. However, there is one bit of criticism I have seen which is not founded: that the trade for Avery Bradley was a "win now risk" or that the Pistons were going "all in on this season" with the trade. This isn't the case. Not only did the Pistons improve for the coming season, but the trade made sense from a long term plan perspective as well.
Why It Makes Sense For The Present
Admittedly, there isn't a whole lot of debate about this. Trading for Bradley made pretty clear sense for the coming season. They gave up Marcus Morris, and they even got a pick back for it, and as a repercussion of the trade, they also lost any hope of retaining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in free agency, so essentially the Pistons traded Morris and KCP for Avery Bradley and a second round pick. Losing Morris is painful because he was a fan (and my personal) favorite player, and even though he was good for the Pistons, he was a bit redundant on the roster.
Tobias Harris does a lot of the same things as Morris on the floor but at an elevated rate, Stanley Johnson is eager and pushing for more minutes at the three, and Henry Ellenson is pushing for minutes at the four. The Pistons will miss Morris, but he was a role player, and the Pistons can get other guys to play his role. With losing KCP, Bradley is the replacement and is pretty clearly an upgrade over Caldwell-Pope. Bradley is better in pretty much every offensive category and most importantly, as a shooter, while being one of the few guys who would not represent any drop off defensively from KCP. Bradley is, in fact, one of maybe a handful of guys in the NBA who are almost definitely an upgrade over KCP on that end of the floor.
So essentially, the Pistons got a significant upgrade at shooting guard, while giving up, at most some veteran stability at small forward. So for the coming season, there isn't much arguing that the Pistons improved.
So Why Is It That People Think It Was Bad For The Future?
Bradley is only under contract for the coming season, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent, while the guy they traded for Bradley, Morris, is under contract for an absolute bargain for the next two years. The bigger complaint is generally with KCP. He was a restricted free agent this past offseason, and the Pistons renounced his rights and let him go for nothing as a result of the trade for Avery Bradley. The general perception is that the Pistons let go an important core future piece, who they could've locked up long term, for an older guy who may leave at the end of the coming season.
The Logic Makes Sense. What's Wrong With It?
At the core of it is the general overrating of Caldwell-Pope. It happens with lots of guys who are athletic wings with at least some basic amount of skill since they "have all the tools" people assume they will get the skill later when in reality they often don't. For instance, even in Lakerland of this site, you can find it. One article grades the KCP singing as an "A+" and "was quite the coup for the Lakers front office." (Although protecting cap space is a big thing in that deal as well.) Elsewhere he was cited as "one of better two-way players in the league," and is "coming off a disappointing season shooting the ball" all of which is just untrue. It is hard to say that 35 percent from three is a disappointment when it is a career best, and his overall line last year of 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 40 percent overall, 35 percent from three, for a true shooting percentage of just 52 percent is hardly worthy of being "one of the best two way players in the league" and that isn't even bringing up the fact that he took a real step back defensively last year. His career from the field is 41 percent, 33 percent from three, for a 51 percent% true shooting percentage, not exactly elite numbers.
The reality is that KCP not likely to develop into much beyond being a nice role player who defends and provides a little bit of punch offensively in a complementary role, but to get there, he has some very real issues that he has to sort out leading up to it. He needs a more consistent three point shot, and he has to get more confident handling the ball in traffic and going to the hoop. The fact remains, however, that he has some real work to do and that he may not get there, as he is now he is a mediocre offensive player and a good defensive one and on top of all that, he was about to become an expensive player as well.
Ok So KCP Isn't As Good As People Say But Why Does Bradley Make More Sense?
It is twofold. First off, Bradley is currently about as good as you could hope that KCP would become, and generally speaking, when you have the chance to swap out a younger player for a player in his prime who is already as good as the younger player hopes to become it is a good option. Beyond just that, however, is that the problem of Bradley only being under contract for this year is an attractive thing for this current Pistons team.
Last year was a borderline disaster year for the Pistons, having loaded up and capped themselves out they were hoping to take a step towards true contention. Instead, they went backward in a weaker conference and had locker room issues to boot. The argument, however, is that all the problems stemmed from Reggie Jackson not being healthy. The Pistons need to find out if they can win anything with the Drummond/Jackson centerpieces, and be aware of the reality that they may not be able to win anything. They were hesitant to go in on a long term deal for an expensive role player in KCP. Essentially, by getting Bradley on the one year deal it allows the Pistons to get a better assessment of the current team with a healthy Reggie Jackson, if the team is actually good this year then it makes sense to pay a lot of money for a complementary player, but if the team isn't as good as they want it to be, then they can let Bradley go with no harm done and start to rebuild.
Essentially, KCP and Bradley are the sorts of players who are good enough to get paid significant money and can help a good team, but neither is the sort of good that they can be a real centerpiece. So if the Pistons need to rebuild after this year, having either one of them on a big contract is not likely to be very helpful to them, so rather than lock up KCP long term with the possibility of him simply becoming an overly large contract on a bad team in a year, they were able to push the decision back a year until they have better data on the current team. And on top of all that, I'd much rather pay Bradley big money than KCP.
What If Reggie Jackson Isn't Healthy Though?
Let's not think about that right now.
Is There At Least Some Long Term Risk?
Yes, there is some. The most basic one is that there is a chance, as small as it is, that KCP ends up being some star player who is one of the better two-way players in the league and could've been a real centerpiece for the Pistons moving forwards. Even if it is fair to assume that won't happen based on the evidence the Pistons have to go off of, guys make leaps out of nowhere sometimes.
The more realistic risk the Pistons are taking is that the team may end up being good this year. Because if they are good this year, and then Bradley leaves in the offseason anyways they do not really have a good way to replace him at which point they may have wished they had just locked up KCP long term, even if he isn't as good as Bradley he is a fairly capable starting guard, and if Bradley leaves this offseason the Pistons could end up hurting for that badly.
The Pistons don't know if this team will be any good long term, so they don't want to commit to a complementary player if they are going to rebuild. Bradley lets them assess the current team for another year and then they can make a more informed decision. It could've worked the same way with just as much sense if they had retained KCP on a one year deal except that Bradley is better regardless.