By: Will Burchfield
There’s no getting without giving, and the Pistons had to send quite the bounty to the Clippers in exchange for five-time All-Star Blake Griffin.
“They got our two leading scorers, a (2018) first-round pick and Boban (Marjanovic), who had started to play very effectively for us,” said Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy. “We did give up a lot.”
The Pistons also sent the Clippers a 2019 second-round pick. Of the assets Detroit surrendered, one particularly hurt Van Gundy: Tobias Harris.
“A great player and one of the finest people I’ve ever been around in this league. He’s about all the right things. It was very, very difficult to give him up,” Van Gundy said, “but you’re not going to get a guy like Blake Griffin and not give up anything you don’t want to give up. That’s just not going to be possible.
“At the end of the day, obviously (Harris) had to be part of the deal and we’re hoping that Blake can give us a much better chance to win.”
It was reminiscent of last summer’s Avery Bradley trade that sent Marcus Morris to Boston. Van Gundy hated parting ways with Morris, who worked his tail off for the Pistons and was as well-liked and as well-respected as anyone in the locker room.
The same could be said of Harris. Over two years with the Pistons, he became a player that his teammates looked up to. He wasn’t the most vocal, but the way he competed and the way he carried himself made him a leader by default.
This year, his play began speaking loudly. Through 48 games, Harris was averaging 18.1 points and shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, both career highs. His player efficiency rating was a career-high 17.0. At 25 years old, he was coming into his own.
To put the cherry on top, the Pistons had Harris signed through the 2018-19 season at a cap hit of $14.8 million. In a league where salaries are ballooning out of control, he was the rare player outperforming his contract.
Put it all together, and Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower had no interest in trading him.
“If you would have asked me three weeks ago, we certainly were not looking to move Tobias Harris. At 25 years old and our leading scorer, we had no intention of doing that,” Van Gundy said. “You just don’t now what’s going to come up.”
In this case it was Griffin, a bonafide star who’s signed through the 2021-22 season. Even at the cost of about $34 million per year, the Pistons couldn’t pass on the chance to acquire him.
“For Blake, we probably would have done a lot of things,” Van Gundy said.
He added, “When those kind of names pop up, you’re interested (but) you’re almost never able to pull it off. I was surprised that he was available, number one, and then as the process went through and it looked like we had a chance to get it done, I was even more surprised.”
If trading Harris was a tough pill to swallow, the loss of Bradley was easy to digest. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Pistons didn’t like their chances of keeping him around.
“We were concerned, quite honestly, with our ability to re-sign Avery anyway, so we were exploring what we could with him at the trade deadline,” Van Gundy said.
Bradley, who’s making about $8.8 million this season, is headed for a payday on the open market, likely in the range of $20 million per year.
“We looked at the market and we looked at our team and what we would have available money wise and what we thought we needed to do, and I don’t know that we were going to be in a position to match the kind of money he hopes to get,” said Van Gundy, adding that the development of Luke Kennard and the solid play of Reggie Bullock made Bradley expendable.
“Avery’s a great player, but we feel like we’ve got some decent options at that position. We felt like the best thing at this time was to be able to get something for him.”
With about a week and a half remaining before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, Van Gundy doesn’t expect the Pistons to make any more significant moves. Having surrendered Harris, Bradley and a first-round pick, they don’t have many assets left to work with.
Then again, the Griffin trade was a surprise. Van Gundy credited Bower for pulling the trigger.
“I thought Jeff did a great job with this move, and it’s the result of him constantly being in conversations and knowing what other people want,” Van Gundy said. “I think that he’s a guy that other teams trust. He’s not a bullsh*t guy. He’s not going to walk you down the road for no reason, so people work with him.
“He did a really, really good job on this move and he’ll continue to talk to people. If there’s things out there that can help us, we’ll be interested.”
Entering play Tuesday night, the Pistons are 2.5 games out of a playoff spot with 34 games remaining. Griffin is expected to make his debut either Thursday versus the Grizzlies or Saturday versus the Heat.