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NBA Daily: Time To Rebuild In Detroit

With Blake Griffin’s season-ending knee surgery, the decision should now be very clear: Chad Smith explains why it is time for the Pistons to embrace a plan to rebuild.

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After a return to the playoffs last season, the Detroit Pistons had hoped to take the next step this year. Entering the second week of January, it appears as though those aspirations will fall flat on their face. The Pistons are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 14-24 record. Combing through their injury-rattled roster, there are very few bright spots that stand out.

Chief among them has been the resurgence of Derrick Rose. The former MVP of the league has continued to thrive in the backcourt with young guns Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard. But as good as they have been, it has been the play of Andre Drummond that has been the primary focus this season.

The big man has been putting up solid numbers across the board, which has left the organization contemplating whether or not they want to bring him back. Drummond has a player option worth $28.8 million that he can elect to pick up. If he chooses to decline the option, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

The direction of this team has been cloudy at best, due to the injury issues plaguing their franchise player Blake Griffin. The six-time All-Star has looked like a shell of himself this season as his knee just hasn’t gotten better. It was a surprise announcement just before the season opener that he would be sidelined for a couple of weeks. That stretched out even longer as Griffin has been limited to just 18 games this season.

The Pistons announced yesterday that Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his injured knee and will be out indefinitely as he will undergo an extended rehabilitation period.

The numbers in his abbreviated season weren’t atrocious (15.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists) but given his production in recent years, they greatly affect the way Detroit’s season has played out thus far. His scoring and rebounding were the lowest of his career, shooting just 24 percent from three-point range and 35 percent overall from the field.

Since the 2010-11 season where he earned Rookie of the Year honors, Griffin has steadily added to his game and his performance on the court reflects that. His eight seasons in Los Angeles were fantastic, but his 25 points per game last year in Detroit was the highest average of his career. The main reason why the Pistons made the playoffs last year was that Griffin was playing at a near MVP level.

Griffin developed himself into a brilliant all-around player after just relying on his athleticism in his early years. His handle, three-point shot and overall defense have improved tremendously since he was traded to Motown. Just as Chris Paul was the engine in L.A., Griffin has become that for Detroit. But with the lingering knee issues perhaps ending his season, the time is now to trade Drummond.

Drummond flourished with Griffin’s absence, but the monster numbers haven’t translated into wins for Detroit. The three-time rebounding champ has spent his entire eight-year career in Michigan after the Pistons selected him with the 9th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. As is the case with most players in the league today, a new home may quickly become a reality for the All-Star center.

The biggest fear with any rebuild is how it will be received by the city. The newly-built Little Caesars Arena currently already ranks 24th in the league in overall attendance. There are marquee names for sure with Griffin and Rose, but this team is far from being a contender even in their own division.

It is important to note that when Detroit traded for Griffin, it was Stan Van Gundy still in charge. Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey are running things now, so they must look at the Griffin situation closely. He will make $36.6 million next season and has a $39 million option for the following year.

Obviously Griffin’s trade value is at an all-time low, given his injury and contract. It will be difficult to find the right deal if Detroit elects to deal him. Portland may be an option but they will likely have better offers to consider. The Pistons may be stuck with the All-Star, but perhaps he can provide more trade value if he is able to come back and perform well next season.

Trade rumors have been swirling around Drummond all season long, and have only intensified with the Feb. 6 trade deadline now less than a month away. Whichever team decides to trade for Drummond will surely want to know what he intends to do regarding next season. The terms of the deal will definitely depend on if the move is for long term or just as a rental.

Though he may appear older, Drummond is still just 26 and in the prime of his career. Atlanta has been one team rumored to be interested, which could yield a solid return for Detroit to utilize as they begin their rebuild.

The big gamble trade for Griffin may not have paid off in the end — but, if you consider what they gave up, it still seems to be a solid trade for both parties. Phasing out guys like Drummond, Rose, Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris over the next couple of years should be the next course of action. Continuing to develop Brown, Kennard, Christian Wood, Svi Mykhailiuk and Sekou Doumbouya will be vital during this process.

The playoffs aren’t out of reach for the Pistons, but a likely matchup with Milwaukee in the first round won’t fare any better than it did last year when they were swept. With Griffin now out and their young players still developing, it is time for Detroit to thank a franchise-great for his services and begin building for their future.

Chad is a Basketball Insiders contributor based in Indianapolis.

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