Of all the transactions made this week in the NBA, there was one that really stuck out to us – Andre Drummond’s trade from the Detroit Pistons to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You wonder why the trade market for Drummond, the league’s leading rebounder, was so constricted and why the Pistons had to choose the Cavaliers as partners when there should have been contenders in need of one of the league’s most dominating post players.
It was no surprise to see Drummond traded. Speculation he’d be moved has intensified since January. It seemed clear he no longer wanted to be in Detroit after seven seasons – the Pistons have made the playoffs only once since 2012 – and the team was aware they had little desire of signing the big guy to a new deal.
So on Thursday, just minutes before the trade deadline hit, the Pistons traded Drummond to the Cavaliers. Detroit receives former Piston Brandon Knight, John Henson and a second-round pick. Cleveland also gets some much needed cap relief.
Why Drummond, a two-time All-Star and only 26 years old, apparently was so hard to move is partly due to the $28.8 player option he has already said he will likely reject for next season. Who would want to take him for just a few months knowing he was out the door when it ended.
But he’s also developed a bit of reputation for being detached when things are going poorly and the Pistons have won only 19 games. That has translated into uninspired, unfocused performance. So maybe the NBA has come to know him know as overpriced and unreliable.
During the offseason, Drummond let it be known that he’d decline his player option and try to land a max contract with someone else. The Athletic reports Drummond gave the Pistons the first shot, but they turned down the chance. So the long march to Thursday began.
After getting swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs in 2019, the Pistons moved the furniture, signing Markieff Morris among others. But things have not worked out for them, partly due to Blake Griffin’s injuries that culminated in knee surgery in January that may sideline him for the remainder of the season.
Other injuries have shortened the team’s rotation and put more pressure on Drummond to score. Observers say when it wasn’t successful, he seemed to try doing things counterproductive to the type of offense the Pistons have been trying to run.
Really, you can’t blame him for being frustrated with the losing. It’s the same type of mindset that convinced Anthony Davis he needed to talk his way out of New Orleans. And look at how great that’s worked out for him with the Lakers.
“There’s no reason he should be frustrated or whatever,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey told reporters last week. “He’s one of the greatest offensive rebounders in the NBA. He runs some of the most pick-and-rolls. He’s getting the ball, so now he has to make a decision whether to go at the rim or kick-outs.”
Apparently, Drummond has been freelancing too much, looking to create points in ways not aligned with his strengths.
“The days of the post-up guys … those days are gone,” Casey said. You can’t make enough of those to win in today’s game. He’s at about 50 percent (of getting the ball in the post and kicking it out), but we have to get that up to 80 or 90 percent, where he catches it and makes the right decision. …
“He’s an elite rebounder in the history of the game. He’s not one of the best scorers. He touches the ball, he’s quarterbacking, and he has to make the right decision. That’s all of our big guys. We run a lot through those guys.”
Drummond’s resistance to playing a style conducive to what Casey wants to run may have been noticed by scouts trying to assess his trade value. Because of his size and his strength, the NBA probably wants him to be more of a conventional center – post up or dish, crash the boards for put backs. Drummond’s been spending too much time with his face to the basket. And he can’t make free throws.
It was time for Drummond to go. He didn’t like being a Piston anymore and the team was beginning to move in a direction counter to his skill set by looking for more mobile posts.
Will the Cavaliers be the team to sign Drummond to the deal he wants? Probably not. His agent, Jeff Schwartz, also represents Kevin Love and Love’s discontent in Cleveland seems clear.
“For us, I think in terms of his age and what he brings to our team, absolutely we consider him a potential long-term play,” Cavs’ GM Koby Altman said in a conference call Friday. “Obviously he has a player option that, if he picks up, we think we’re in good shape in terms of our cap space. There’s no better money spent than Andre Drummond if he does pick up his player option.
“So I think with the player option or not, we have flexibility and optionality moving forward, but I think these next 30 games or so, he’s really going to enjoy playing with our guards and Kevin Love as well, and we’ll see.”
If not the Cavs, who will be willing to pay Drummond at least $29 million annually, which he’ll need to exceed the guaranteed option money he’s ready to turn down for next season.
Keep this in mind: Drummond is averaging 17.8 points and 15.8 rebounds. Wilt Chamberlain (1964-65) is the only other to average at least 15 points and 15 rebounds at midseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Drummond could become the first player to average 15 or more points and rebounds for three straight seasons since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77.
Still, it seems like Drummond has a lot of work to do over the next three months to fix what’s broken in his game. If he doesn’t, the market for him next year may be even smaller.