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NBA trade season is picking up about three-and-a-half weeks out from the trade deadline. The Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards linked up on a small, but still important deal. Both sides accomplished different things in the deal, but it gives us some insight into the direction both franchises are headed in.

Here are the particulars:

Both the Pistons and Wizards are bottom-dwellers in the Eastern Conference. It’s likely this trade will have very little on-court impact for either team, at least for the remainder of this season. But this trade sets both up for further moves down the line. Let’s dive in!

Detroit Pistons

Incoming salary: $10.3 million in 2023-24

Outgoing salary: $14.3 million in 2023-24

The Pistons primary objective in this trade was clearing out additional cap space for the 2024 offseason.

Mission accomplished.

Detroit shed the only salary that extends beyond this season in this deal by moving Marvin Bagley III’s $12.5 million salary to Washington. That puts either of the following scenarios in play (without factoring in any other potential trades):

  • $50.3 million in cap space – keeping Bojan Bogdanovic on the books for next season


  • $66.1 million in cap space – eating a $2 million dead money cap hit for Bogdanovic for next season

That’s what this trade was about for Detroit. They now have the most projected cap space in the NBA in either scenario. The question now becomes: How do the Pistons use that cap space?

During the Troy Weaver era, Detroit has largely used their cap space to eat undesirable salary from other teams while picking up fairly middling assets. Just this past offseason, the Pistons used most of their cap space to take on the contracts of Joe Harris and Monte Morris in salary-clearing deals for the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards, respectively. The Pistons return for eating nearly $30 million in salary in those deals? Three second-round picks.

However, things seem to be pointing in a different direction for Detroit now. Whether it’s impatience or trying to take advantage of an uncertain marketplace, the Pistons seem poised to add players who will actually be expected to deliver on the court. And it’s probably going to happen in the next six months between now and the February 8 trade deadline or this summer.

With somewhere between $50 and $66 million to spend next summer, the Pistons are in play to either sign free agents or make trades in July. Detroit could also do a form of “pre-agency” and make a trade now that uses up some of their future flexibility.

Being realistic, there isn’t a trade the Pistons could make before the deadline that would fix this current season. Things are too far gone for that. But Weaver could make a deal, or two or three, that sets Detroit up for the future with win-now (now being 2024-25, of course!) players. The key? Don’t get silly with trading assets, whether they be young players or future draft picks. That’s true leading up to the deadline or this summer.

The Pistons still have plenty of matching salary they can send out in trades. Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Joe Harris, Monte Morris and James Wiseman are over $72 million in easily-tradeable expiring (or pseudo-expiring in the case of Bogdanovic) salary. Detroit could also be about $2.5 million under the cap after this deal (pending how they structure the trade, the Pistons could create a mid-sized trade exception), which gives them a bit more wiggle room, if needed, in any potential trades.

So, let’s say Zach LaVine’s trade market is really as barren as reports suggest, Detroit could theoretically sneak in and grab him by sending the Bulls some expiring salary for veteran players. In theory, Chicago could be looking to reset their cap sheet a bit, while also adding reinforcements for a postseason push. If the Pistons grease the skids by offering up a single first-round pick, in addition to two or three vets, is that enough to push a deal through? We don’t know that answer, but that’s the sort of thing Detroit could be looking at doing right now. In the summer, trade options will expand even more.

On the court, the direct impact from this trade is pretty negligible. Gallinari has largely fallen out of the Wizards rotation over the last few weeks. In his age-35 season, Gallinari looks like he’s near the end. He can’t move the way he once did on defense, and defense was never his strength in the first place. Gallinari is also shooting only 31% on three-pointers this season.

One thing to keep mind: Gallinari’s agent is Michael Tellem, who is the son of Pistons executive Arn Tellem. Gallinari is a prime buyout candidate. There’s a good chance he works a deal to get set free before even suiting up in Detroit. Because he’s only making $6.8 million this season, Gallinari would be eligible to join any team after a buyout as some veteran frontcourt depth.

Muscala is in a somewhat similar situation, in that he’s a veteran frontcourt player who might not offer much to the Pistons. However, Muscala is a few years younger than Gallinari and history shows he has some value as a stretch five. He could stick in Detroit to give them a shooting center to plug into the rotation with Jalen Duren and James Wiseman.

As for what Detroit gave up, we have to start with Bagley. Giving up two second-round picks to shed Bagley’s salary is an admission that signing him to a fully-guaranteed three-year $37.5 million contract was a mistake. At the time, it seemed like the Pistons were bidding against themselves. That’s only become clearer over the last season-and-a-half.

Bagley hasn’t been bad this season, especially on offense. He’s shooting a career-high 59% from the field, and he’s averaging 10.2 points. But Bagley’s lack of shooting range (he’s all but stopped taking threes) makes him a poor fit next to the Pistons centers. That limits him to backup duty behind Duren, and even that’s inconsistent with Wiseman still around.

Mostly, Detroit made a mistake in paying Bagley what they did. It wasn’t a crushing one by any means, but it was still salary that could have been better spent elsewhere. That’s now rectified at the cost of a couple second-round picks.

Livers never really built on the promise he showed as a rookie. In that first season, Livers looked like he could be a swing forward with a good three-point shot. Since then, he’s shot worse in each of the next two seasons, and Livers hasn’t improved as a defender or rebounder.

One minor part of this trade that could be getting a little overlooked is that Troy Weaver removed a couple of clubs from Monty Williams’ bag. Instead of throwing minutes (and, worse, starts!) to Bagley or Livers, Williams will now be forced to play other players instead. It’s the equivalent of the “Can’t play Pena” trade from the film version of Moneyball.

Washington Wizards

Incoming salary: $14.3 million in 2023-24

Outgoing salary: $10.3 million in 2023-24

Washington’s side of this trade is less intriguing. But it still gives us some hints of where the Wizards might be headed.

Washington took on about $4 million in salary this season, but they are miles under the luxury tax anyway. The bigger, and more interesting thing, is that the Wizards took on $12.5 million next year. That amount takes Washington from being a projected cap space team at around $25 million to functioning as an over-the-cap team in 2024.

Now, the Wizards have been clear that they are playing the long game in rebuilding. So, this was mostly about getting a couple of second-round picks. Bagley is also young enough that perhaps there is some late-bloomer upside still there if you squint hard enough. Washington has also been dreadfully thin at the five behind Daniel Gafford this season. Bagley gives them a little cover there, and potentially even more cover if Gafford himself is traded.

Livers enters a pretty crowded forward/wing rotation in Washington. He’s not going to play over Kyle Kuzma or Deni Avdija, who have started for the Wizards all season. Livers also is behind Bilal Coulibaly and Corey Kispert, who are former first-rounders and part of Washington’s future.

If it feels like this is kind of a sideways trade for the Wizards, that’s probably true. The second-rounders they have coming to them are tied up with all kinds of swap conditions. That means it’s not even fully clear what they’ll have there. But by taking on Bagley’s $12.5 million for 2024-25, it’s a sign that Washington isn’t planning any quick fixes by using cap space next summer.

Maybe the next trade, or two or three, swing that back in the other direction. But, for now, it looks like Washington is committed to a slower rebuild. And that’s ok, given how long the franchise sat stuck in the middle. It’s also a sign that Michael Winger and crew aren’t done with shuffling players in and out of the nation’s capital. The Wizards likely have an active few weeks ahead of them before the February 8 trade deadline.