As the trade deadline has every fanbase clamoring for home runs and fireworks at the 11th hour, sometimes the safer deals don’t get the buzz they deserve.
Role players aren’t sexy deals to dream about, but they can provide a boost for a team looking to take a small, but necessary step forward.
Boston fans want the Pistons’ Jerami Grant bad, but as The Detroit News’ Rod Beard eloquently put it, there’s no chance in hell.
However, the Pistons have more than the potential Most Improved Player in Grant to offer. The Athletic’s James Edwards III proposed this potential deal that benefits both sides in an article with John Hollinger last week.
The deal: Tristan Thompson, Javonte Green and a likely heavily protected 2022 first-round pick for Mason Plumlee and Wayne Ellington.
“The Pistons would be saving Danny Ainge from drafting another fringe NBA player late in the first round,” Edwards said.
“I’d also expect Boston to enjoin in some extended ‘are you sure we can’t interest you in a lightly used Romeo Langford?’ and ‘what would it take for you to drive off this lot with Jeff Teague?’ discussions before eventually coughing up a protected first, one that would be top-14 protected for three seasons before turning into two seconds,” Hollinger said.
Since signing a three-year, $25 million deal with Detroit in the offseason, Plumlee has seen an uptick in minutes, points, assists and rebounds.
Plumlee’s playmaking is what really stands out. This season, Plumlee (133) is sixth in assists among centers. Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo, and Nikola Vucevic are the only centers with more assists, and all five were All-Stars in 2021.
Plumlee would provide solid, consistent playmaking as a likely role player. Boston is 27th in the league in assists per game, so adding a facilitating big man could open up their offense for the second half of the season.
This roster is starving for an Al Horford-type player who can make smart passes offensively, pose a decent scoring threat and box out. Plumlee’s 9.1 rebounds per game would also help the Celtics fill that hole on their roster.
He isn’t a strong defender, but neither is Thompson. Thompson is one of the worst centers in the league, sporting a 54.3% defended field goal percentage. Plumlee is better, but not far behind at 52.4%. It is a lateral move defensively, but Plumlee is doing more than Thompson on offense, which the Celtics could use.
Ellington has also been playing well in his second stint with the Pistons. He ranks 27th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, shooting 42.4% on 6.3 three attempts per game. Ellington would provide Boston with reliable, consistent 3-point shooting off the bench.
For the amount of threes Ellington takes, he hits an incredible amount of them. The majority of his threes – 4.5 per game – come from 25-29 feet out. Of the 34 players shooting better than Ellington’s 44.8% from that distance, only one shot nearly as many threes as Ellington – Brooklyn’s Joe Harris.
Harris, who plays with three Hall of Fame scorers, is hitting a ridiculous 48.1% of his 4.2 threes per game. His efficiency and volume are unmatched, but he is in a dream situation, whereas Ellington is on a team with the second-highest lottery odds.
The Pistons would benefit from this deal as well. Detroit GM Troy Weaver has been notoriously aggressive in his first year at the helm.
“I’m not going to come in and be gun shy. My clip will be empty,” Weaver told the Detroit Free Press’ Omari Sankofa II.
Trading Plumlee’s three-year deal and getting a first-round pick back for an expiring deal in Ellington makes sense, and maintains the vision Weaver has for the Pistons: staying young and athletic and holding picks.
Detroit just traded Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2027 second-round pick for Hamidou Diallo, further strengthening the young, athletic core Weaver assembled through the 2020 draft and free agency.
Getting Green from Boston adds another athletic gamble to the Detroit roster. Taking Thompson essentially cuts a year off Plumlee’s deal, giving Detroit more cap flexibility for the 2023 offseason – which they could hope to be players in, according to Edwards.
What can fans decipher about the #Pistons' path after Troy Weaver's whirlwind week of trades and draft picks? @JLEdwardsIII puts the pieces together, and explains why the 2022 and 2023 free-agency classes will be so important.https://t.co/CkAPwvBjpE— The Athletic Detroit (@TheAthleticDET) November 23, 2020
Thompson is an obvious downgrade over Plumlee, but the money matches up and the first round pick helps the Pistons, who hit on their late-firsts this season when they drafted Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey.
Plumlee and Ellington make sense for Boston. A small improvement can make a world of difference in a team game like basketball, and the Celtics would be smart to make the safe, cheap deal in acquiring two solid veterans from the Pistons.