The NBA trade deadline is quickly approaching. Many fans are anticipating big moves while others are expecting all talk and no player movement to really speak of. Well, to those that that were expecting something unexpected, it happened on Tuesday. The Orlando Magic traded forward Tobias Harris to Detroit for the services of point guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova. The trade of Harris was something that no one really expected, especially since the Magic signed him to a four-year, $64 million dollar contract as a restricted free agent. But nonetheless, the Magic felt it was what they needed to do in moving him. And for the Detroit Pistons, they felt they needed to make one more move to strengthen their team while losing another piece. But what essentially does Harris bring to the Pistons? And what does the combination of Jennings and Ilysova mean for the Magic?
The Pistons have been starting Marcus Morris and Ilysova at the forward spots all season long. And to the credit of both, they have played pretty well. But both are not really considered playmakers at the position. And with both at 26 and 28 respectively, the chances of them both developing into a playmaker is not very high. Tobias is having a bit of a down season this year (averaging his lowest points per game as a member of the Magic at 13.7 points per game). But even with that, he is still shooting better than both of these guys are at the forward position. And in addition to shooting the ball better, Harris is much better playmaker in transition and in the halfcourt offense than Morris and Ilysova. Before the addition of Harris, all the playmaking with the Pistons fell on the shoulders of Reggie Jackson. And although he is having a career year, Jackson will be worn out with the scoring and playmaking duties he has to shoulder each game. Harris alleviates that to an extent and can also allow Jackson to play off the ball some because of Harris’ vision on the court. Another good thing that comes with Harris is the versatility of the frontcourt of the Pistons is still maintained. Harris can play the small and power forward positions and that will allow him to play alongside talented rookie Stanley Johnson at times. The Pistons definitely upgraded their team with this move and also increased their expectations. And with veteran point guard Steve Blake there in Detroit, the Pistons could afford to move Brandon Jennings without fear of a huge dropoff.
In Orlando, it seems that Scott Skiles taking over has had an effect on this team. They are playing harder every night and you can see the improvements. But along with the improvements, you can also see who does and does not fit the system that Skiles wants in Orlando. Harris, unfortunately, just didn’t seem to fit what Skiles wanted despite efficient numbers. With them moving Harris, it now opens up more of a youth movement at the forward position. The Magic drafted Mario Hezonja this past NBA Draft and the rookie has been solid in limited minutes off the bench. The Magic looked like they were going nowhere with their current status quo, so they may as well allow Hezonja to get better and that requires more playing time. With Harris out of the way, look for more lineups with Hezonja and second-year player Aaron Gordon at the forward spots. In acquiring Ilysova and Jennings, the Magic get two veteran players that can be solid for them off the bench. The Magic have been backing up second-year point guard Elfrid Payton with Shabazz Napier. Jennings is an immediate upgrade over Napier and brings along some veteran experience that can help Payton grow on the court. He also is a former player for Skiles in Milwaukee. It should be interesting to see how they get along now. But along with his experience, Jennings also brings along an expiring contract at the end of the year ($8.3 million off the books at the end of the season). If the Magic are able to pull off the rumored trade of backup big man Channing Frye to the Los Angeles Clippers for Lance Stephenson(whom they will reportedly buy out if they acquire him), this is where things could get even more interesting for Orlando. The Frye trade and subsequent cut of Stephenson would give them an additional $9 million more in salary cap freed up going into the summer of 2016. Add that additional $17 million to the cap going up exponentially next year and the Magic will have money, young players and options. One of those options will reportedly be re-signing young guard Evan Fournier, who will be a restricted free agent. But even with that, they will still have money to burn on upgrades to their team. As far as Ilysova, he is there for one reason and one reason along: shooting. He is a former Scott Skiles player from his Milwaukee days (like Jennings) and Skiles knows how to get the best out of him, as Ilysova had two of his best seasons under Skiles. With him coming in off the bench, the Orlando Magic now have more firepower when going to their subs.
Both teams got what they wanted out of this one. The Magic got some cap space, options and a backup point guard. The Pistons got another playmaker and an upgrade at the forward spot. No true winner can be determined in this trade until we see how all players fit (or don’t fit) into their new teams. But on the surface, the Pistons committed highway robbery with this trade.