Trade Grades: Will Tobias Harris boost Detroit into the playoffs?

Tobias HarrisSam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Deal

Pistons get: Forward Tobias Harris

Magic get: Guard Brandon Jennings, forward Ersan Ilyasova


Detroit Pistons: A

I've admittedly never been the biggest Harris believer. About this time a year ago, he appeared on my list of RPM mirages -- players whose box-score stats overstated their real value, as indicated by ESPN's real plus-minus.

At the same time, I don't think Harris has ever been in position to succeed in Orlando. The Magic's options have either been to play him at small forward, where Harris has a difficult time chasing quicker athletes around the perimeter, or use him at power forward next to a weak defensive center (either Nikola Vucevic or Channing Frye).

By contrast, Detroit looks like a more ideal fit for Harris' skills. He'll slide into Ilyasova's spot in the starting lineup next to Andre Drummond, an elite defensive rebounder who can cover for Harris' weakness in this regard. (Per NBA.com/Stats lineup data, Orlando rebounded just 73.9 percent of opponents' misses with Harris at power forward, which would rank 28th in the NBA, as compared to an outstanding 79 percent when he played small forward, good for third-best.)

A Pistons forward trio of Harris, starting small forward Marcus Morris and rookie Stanley Johnson looks built for the 2016 NBA. Any of the three players could defend either small forwards or power forwards depending on matchups, enabling Stan Van Gundy to hide Harris defensively.

Detroit will also have flexibility to interchange its forwards' assignments at the offensive end. While Harris isn't the perimeter threat that Ilyasova is, having hit 31.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season (down from 36.4 percent in 2014-15, but similar to his 31.8 percent career mark), he's still an above-average outside shooter for a power forward and both he and Morris have the ability to isolate against bigger, slower defenders.

In the short term, I don't think this move helps the Pistons' playoff chances, and it might hurt them if they can't find a replacement for Jennings as a backup to Reggie Jackson. Detroit's much-maligned all-reserve units have actually played pretty well with Jennings, while the Pistons' starting five has slumped. Per NBA.com/Stats, Detroit has actually been 6.1 points better per 100 possessions with Jennings on the court since his return from a ruptured Achilles.

Fittingly, the Pistons have been an identical 6.1 points worse in terms of net rating with veteran Steve Blake at the point. So Detroit could use an upgrade. Someone like former Pistons backup D.J. Augustin on an expiring contract might be able to better fill Jennings' role.

Still, this trade isn't about the remainder of the 2015-16 season so much as preparing for 2016-17 and beyond. After deciding to wait to extend the contract of All-Star center Andre Drummond, the Pistons could have had nearly $20 million in cap space even if they retained Ilyasova (whose 2016-17 salary is guaranteed for just $400,000).

Essentially, trading Jennings' expiring contract means using that cap space five months early. It's hard to imagine Detroit could have gotten better value this summer.

Not only is Harris far younger than the unrestricted free agents who would be available to the Pistons at age 23; his four-year, $64 million deal looks terrific in the context of the rising cap -- which could grow to beyond $90 million, according to internal team projections shared by ESPN's Zach Lowe.

Using the same method outlined in today's piece estimating trade value, Harris' projection is valued at about $50 million over the next three years -- better than the $48 million he's owed, and that's not factoring in the possibility of the cap exceeding the NBA's projections.

Detroit now has a six-player core under contract -- the five current starters and Johnson, likely to eventually start at small forward. None are older than 26, and four of the five -- all but Drummond (sure to re-sign for the max this summer) and shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (eligible for an extension next fall) -- are under contract through 2018-19.

Since Van Gundy inherited Drummond, there's been plenty of talk about him trying to build a team similar to the Magic squad he led to an NBA Finals appearance in 2009. Now, Van Gundy's old team has helped him with perhaps the last major missing piece.


Orlando Magic: D+

On the other side, it's a little difficult to judge the Magic's thinking until we know how this trade fits into the bigger picture. Surely, Orlando has more moves coming between now and the deadline.

To some extent, Ilyasova duplicates the skills of Magic reserve forward/center Channing Frye, who could be dealt by Thursday. Perhaps Ilyasova himself will be on the move again.

That noted, it's hard to see how this swap gets Orlando much closer to achieving goals in the long term or even simply trying to make the playoffs this season.

Yes, the Harris-Vucevic frontcourt was unworkable -- it had been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions this season, according to NBA.com/Stats. But Scott Skiles' endless lineup tinkering seemed to have hit on something with Harris playing small forward next to Aaron Gordon, an interchangeable lineup along the lines of what the Pistons envision. Paired with Vucevic, that duo had posted a plus-0.6 net rating in 302 minutes of action.

I also hope that the Magic don't view Jennings as a long-term solution at point guard rather than an expiring contract. As well as Detroit played with him on the court, and as healthy as he's looked, Jennings hasn't been the same player coming off a ruptured Achilles -- as is typical of one of the most devastating injuries an NBA player can suffer.

His usage rate is way down from its pre-injury heights, and because Jennings is making just 31 percent of his 3-point attempts, he hasn't enjoyed a corresponding boost in efficiency. As a result, he's rated as a below-average point guard this season.

Whether or not Ilyasova returns, Orlando now has the opportunity to clear max-level cap space this summer. But it's hard to see the Magic legitimately competing for the best players on the market as a lottery team with an ill-defined core. Below that top talent, there's a steep drop-off to a second tier of players likely to get overpaid because there's simply more money to go around than talent. I'd rather have Harris.