May 21, 2018

The Detroit Pistons kicked off the NBA’s trade deadline period with a blockbuster transaction, acquiring Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson more than a week before the deadline. The Pistons also got the ball rolling on trade deadline day, making the first deals of any team as they sent out Reed and Johnson.

Thursday’s first deal sent Reed to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Jameer Nelson. Reed is set to begin a six-game suspension as a result of domestic violence charges stemming from an incident this summer. This suspension will have to wait, however, as the Bulls are expected to quickly release him.

As for Nelson, this will be the fourth roster he’s been on since training camp began this season. He has spent time with the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago Bulls and now the Pistons. He will likely supplant Dwight Buycks’ spot in the rotation as third point guard behind Ish Smith and Langston Galloway.

There has been a considerable amount of inconsistency behind Ish Smith with Galloway and Buycks both receiving multiple DNP-CDs as Stan Van Gundy has tried to navigate following Reggie Jackson’s grade three ankle sprain late in December. Nelson’s presence should provide some stability in the interim, and he’ll likely be moved out of the rotation once Jackson is back at full strength.

Nelson goes back with Van Gundy to their days with the Orlando Magic. So far this season, he is shooting 41 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from long-range distance. He is averaging 21 minutes per game in 43 appearances this season.

Nelson will make $2.26 million this season, and his contract expires this summer.

The Pistons’ second and final deal sent newcomer Brice Johnson to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for forward James Ennis. The 6’7 27-year-old will likely back up Stanley Johnson at the three and provide some positional versatility along with Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard.

The Pistons have targeted shooters since the beginning of this past summer, and Ennis will provide a touch of that off the bench. So far this season Ennis is shooting a respectable 35.7 percent from long range, a bit below his career rate of 36.9 percent.

While the Pistons are likely to part ways with Nelson after the season, there may have been a longer-term plan in place for Ennis. His contract expires this summer, but as holders of his early Bird rights, the Pistons can re-sign him for up to 175 percent of his current year’s salary of $3.02 million.

Considering how hamstrung the Pistons are with regards to salary, the organization will likely value the opportunity to use early Bird rights to retain his services. The Pistons will have just their mid-level exception and no bi-annual exception or other ways of adding talent other than simply re-signing their own players, so acquiring Ennis with the intention of retaining his services for future seasons is effectively the equivalent of doing their free agency shopping months in advance.

In the short term, the Pistons should be marginally better on the floor. For next season and later they have the ability to retain both Nelson (albeit unlikely beyond this season) and Ennis.

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Duncan Smith

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