The first three months of the regular season made it abundantly clear the Detroit Pistons were finally on the track to longstanding legitimacy in the Eastern Conference. Led by young stalwarts Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson and finally molding to Stan Van Gundy’s ballyhooed two-way coaching ethos, the Pistons’ immediate playoff hopes were real and their promise for the future obvious.
Still, there was a near-consensus belief that Detroit, with one of the league’s thinnest benches, was a piece or two away from making meaningful noise come the postseason – whether just two months or even two years and two months down the line. Not anymore.
Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops initially reported the teams were in advanced discussions of the league’s first trade before Thursday’s deadline.
Detroit’s justification behind this deal needs no explanation. Jennings, who was enjoying a breakout season before rupturing his Achilles last March, was stuck behind Jackson as the Pistons’ primary point guard. And despite the belief of many that they could coexist in the same backcourt for lengthy stretches, the fleeting defensive engagement of both players always made that pairing untenable.
Ilyasova, meanwhile, never quite found his niche in Detroit the way he did with the Milwaukee Bucks after being traded to the Motor City last summer. His shooting numbers across the floor are down compared to career norms, and the seven-year veteran has lost the knack and overall aggression that once made him an extremely underrated rebounder and playable defender.
The Pistons had a hole at power forward next to Drummond, basically, and Van Gundy – making his second blockbuster trade as his franchise’s decision-making czar – has plugged it by trading for Harris.
The 23-year-old isn’t a floor-spacer of Ilyasova’s caliber, but a far more valuable offensive player nonetheless. One of Detroit’s biggest problems offensively has been a lack of off-the-dribble verve and overall dynamism after the vaunted Jackson-Drummond high ball screen stalls.
That won’t be a problem with Harris around. He’s an aggressive penetrator against wild close-outs, is growing as a pick-and-roll creator, and it’s fair to assume Van Gundy will take advantage of his unique physical profile when mismatches surface, too. Perhaps most importantly, Harris is the kind of player who can keep an offense afloat when Jackson and Drummond are forced to the bench – times that proved the Pistons’ chief pre-All-Star undoing.
The fourth-year forward’s reputation as a defender is lacking, but that’s not a foolproof assessment. Harris is strong enough to bang with smaller big men and fleet enough to chase less threatening wings. Though hardly a disruptive defensive player, Harris’ malleability on that end of the floor would be an asset for any team, especially one featuring similarly versatile defenders like Marcus Morris, promising rookie Stanley Johnson, and even Jackson and designated perimeter stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Detroit is better today after this deal, and they’ll be better long-term, too. Harris signed a descending four-year, $64 million contract with Orlando in July, ensuring that Van Gundy will retain cap flexibility going forward despite the additional cost of a player with a $16 million average salary. And with Drummond, Jackson, Harris, Caldwell-Pope, Morris, and Johnson around for the long haul, why can’t the Pistons be an attractive destination for top-flight free agents?
But that’s thinking too far ahead. For now, Harris’ acquisition is significant enough for Detroit, currently ninth-place in the East, to expect a playoff berth this season. And if they get there, the Pistons are suddenly talented enough to put a scare into more viable contenders at the very least – until they join those esteemed ranks in the future, of course.