Charlotte Bobcats get: G Ben Gordon, 2013 Lottery protected first round pick
Detroit Pistons get: G/F Corey Maggette
On the surface, this looks like the classic “I’ll take your problem if you take my problem” bad contract swap. How could it not be? Corey Maggette has been a cap-killing, ball-stopping, shoot-first offensive threat and defensive succubus for years. Ben Gordon is newer to that label, but has fallen into disgrace after dropping 20 points a game off the bench for the Chicago Bulls before signing a massive five-year, $50 million dollar pact with the Detroit Pistons three years ago.
Both started off as significantly different types of players: Maggette as an athletic swingman whose combination of strength, size and shooting ability were supposed to turn him into the prototypical All-Star small forward of the future, while Gordon a offensive spark plug off the bench – think like a faster JJ Barea with a better stroke and athleticism. However, as I just mentioned, both men have morphed into the same type of garbagey cap ballast every GM has come to resent.
With a swap of the two, Maggette will fight for minutes on a Detroit team largely going nowhere. Aside from Greg Monroe and supposedly Brandon Knight, the rather unimpressive Pistons’ core will keep them languishing in basketball purgatory – not good enough to contend for a playoff spot, but not bad enough to effectively rebuild. Detroit seemingly can no longer do anything right, including the legendary defense that brought them a title, but haven’t gone back to since Chauncey Billups left town. Even going to Ben Wallace’s tomb, exhuming his body and letting the Lawrence Frank operate inside of it like some sort of creepy organic exo-skeleton hasn’t helped any. Maggette’s complete allergy to defense, passing and any other semblance of basketball fundamentals will fit in well with a Pistons team that has shown no effort to do the same. The upside to the trade for Detroit is that Maggette’s $11 million deal will expire after this season, while they would have owed Gordon over $25 for two seasons.
Ben Gordon, even in going to the team that just settled on the worst winning percentage of all-time, might be in a slightly better situation. Quite simply, the Bobcats need someone to put the ball in the hoop. Young players like Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo are still learning how to acclimate to the NBA game, and as underrated as SG Gerald Henderson is, he’s not the type of player to carry a team. Charlotte now has a scorer who may not be dependable in Gordon, but surely has a lot more rounds in the chamber than Corey Maggette; last season, Gordon went for 20 points seven times, including a 45-point outburst in March. In that sense, the trade is a bit of a win for the Bobcats, in that they acquired a player that, while overpaid, can still produce at times.
For the Pistons, who will start their fifth season of rebuilding in November, giving up a first-rounder, no matter how lottery protected, might be a mistake. Next year the selection won’t go to the Bobcats if it’s in the top 14, top 8 after that, top 1 after that and then in 2015, unprotected. At this point with Joe Dumars still at the helm of the Pistons, I’d expect nothing better than a bottom 14 finish in 2014. Optimistically, the Pistons will make the playoffs on the development of their young players, and losing an upcoming pick won’t matter as much. Pessimistically, and perhaps more realistically, they essentially will have traded a 9-14 selection lottery pick so they could save $14 million that they will undoubtedly give to another overpaid player who isn’t worth it.
Yes, this trade does position the Pistons to free up cap room a year from now, as opposed to two, so they can augment a young core that will feature Monroe, Knight and whoever Detroit picks with the 9th spot in Thursday’s draft. However, seeing Dumars’ track record the past half-decade or so, it’s hard to believe that he’ll do anything of consequence with that type of money.
All in all, it’s hard not to call this trade is a win for Charlotte. They need ANY type of production, and with DJ Augustin perhaps leaving in free agency this summer, Gordon’s presence will be welcome in Charlotte. Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson are both still learning, so even though Gordon will take away some shots from them, this team needs his veteran presence and steady hand to just not be a joke next year. The type of reputational hit that the Bobcats are taking will be harder and harder to come back from the longer that they’re a joke; last year, it didn’t even appear theat they were trying to win. In many ways, they weren’t. At least in acquiring a proven player like Ben Gordon, MJ and company wil at least appear like they’re trying.