Earlier today, news broke that Orlando had traded Tobias Harris to Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.
This trade immediately turns the Pistons into long-term Eastern Conference contenders. No, they’re nowhere near even an NBA Finals run, but this trade gives them a great shot at a playoff series victory or two if they can vault up past the eighth seed to avoid Cleveland in the first round.
It’s not like what happens this season matters that much. If Detroit wins a playoff series, great! If it wins two, even better! The best thing about this trade is that it’s not some insane win-now move for a team that won’t win anything; it’ll help the Pistons a ton in the future.
Ilyasova and Jennings, 28 and 26 respectively, are veterans. Ilyasova is signed for the rest of this year and has an unguaranteed salary in 2016-17 while Jennings is on an expiring contract. Neither of those two guys will be around for very long.
Harris, on the other hand, is in the first season of a four year, sixty-four million dollar contract. It seems like a lot of money, and it is, but thanks to the rapidly rising salary cap, sixteen million dollars a year isn’t much to spend on a player like Harris.
Best of all, Harris is 23 years old. The other players worth keeping the Pistons have are all at similar ages: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 22, Stanley Johnson is 19, Andre Drummond is 22, and at 25, Reggie Jackson is the elder statesman of the bunch. Together, these five players form a rapidly improving core and will be in their primes at roughly the same time.
Harris is a tweener, and toggles between each forward position. When he plays power forward, the other four members of the core are able to play as well; when he plays small forward, Marcus Morris can play at the four. Either way, there should be plenty of minutes freed up for him, especially with Ilyasova’s 27.6 minutes at power forward now gone.
Detroit has acquired a 23-year old player who’s already a solid starter and is locked into a cap-friendly deal for the next three seasons. All it had to give up to get him were a couple of veterans who didn’t fit the team’s timeline for contention. Overall, this was a coup for the Pistons.
It’s tough to see what Rob Hennigan was thinking here.
As we discussed above, Ilyasova and Jennings are veterans without upside and with no guaranteed money beyond this season. Harris, on the other hand, is a twenty-three year old oozing with upside, and is signed for three more seasons.
Remember what we said earlier about Harris fitting in with Detroit’s core age-wise? Yeah, he fits even better with Orlando’s: Victor Oladipo is 23, Elfrid Payton turns 22 next week, Mario Hezonja is 20, Evan Fournier is 23, Nikola Vucevic is 25, and Aaron Gordon is 20.
Harris could have grown and matured alongside a core that is under Orlando’s control for at least another season and a half. In the NBA, continuity is priceless, as we’ve seen with elite teams like the Warriors and Spurs. In the present day climate, with increasingly short contracts, continuity is elusive, and the Magic, for some strange reason, decided to give up a big part of theirs.
And what did they give him up for? Almost nothing! At best, Jennings and Ilyasova are “veteran mentors” who can “show the youngsters how to win”. The only problem with that explanation is that Jennings and Ilyasova have been on winning teams only once apiece, on the 2009-10 Bucks team that won a grand total of forty-six games.
Speaking of that team, interestingly enough, it was coached by none other than Scott Skiles, who also happens to currently coach the Magic.
Anyways, if Ilyasova and Jennings aren’t particularly good, and if they don’t have much experience winning, and if they won’t be around long-term, then why in the world would Orlando trade for them?
This deal seems a lot like a win-now move, except that Orlando is worsening its future while worsening its current team too. One other problem with this win-now move? The Magic currently sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 23-29. To make the playoffs, they’d have to vault over three teams, including the Pistons, just to get the eighth seed, where they’ll promptly be slaughtered by Cleveland in the first round.
The single possible benefit for the Magic in this trade is acquiring Ilyasova’s unguaranteed contract for 2016-17. In the offseason, they’ll be able to trade Ilyasova to a cap-starved team and pick up an asset for their help as a cap-declogger. However, the asset that they receive in return for Ilyasova is unlikely to be anywhere near as valuable as Harris is.
Again, there’s little upside to this deal, and a ton of downside. The Magic aren’t winning now, but this trade hurts their chances at winning in the future.
Unless there’s something about Harris that the public doesn’t know, this trade was a grave mistake for the Magic.