The Detroit Pistons have more talent on their roster than they've had in at least five seasons, so in the depleted Eastern Conference, they appeared to be a lock through 30 games to grab a playoff berth.
That's far from a certainty now.
In their last 10 games, the Pistons are 3-7, falling to 17-23 overall. Not only have they struggled, but other teams who started the season slowly have had a bit of a revival. The Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers have all gone at least .500 over their last 10 games.
The combination of those things has dropped Detroit to the No. 7 seed in the East, with Brooklyn, New York, Cleveland and the Charlotte Bobcats all within two games of them.
This Pistons were expected to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but the players have struggled to mesh on the floor. There is 40 games of evidence that Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond cannot play alongside each other.
"The Pistons are less of a team and more of a collection of movable parts," wrote Sharp. "It's time to start moving them."
The question for general manager Joe Dumars and the rest of the front office is: Can the Pistons make the playoffs without shaking things up, or do they need to make a trade to earn a postseason bid?
*All statistics compiled from NBA.com and updated as of Jan. 19 unless otherwise noted.
A Non-Trade Option
On the court the Pistons have several issues, but the biggest is that their three frontcourt players just don't fit together. Smith is out of position at small forward, and neither he nor Monroe shoots the ball well enough to stretch the floor.
Trading Smith or Monroe would solve that problem, but there is another option. Coach Maurice Cheeks could move one of them to the bench and just keep two of the three big men on the court at all times.
Smith is currently playing over 40 percent of Detroit's minutes at small forward thus far, per 82games.com. At the 3 his PER is just 11.8, and he's allowing a PER of 19.0 to opposing small forwards. He's simply been outmatched on the wing and that has really hurt them.
At power forward, however, it's another story. His PER jumps to 19.3, and he's holding opposing 4s to a PER of 14.9, essentially the league average.
So why do they continue to play him at small forward? By bringing him (or Monroe) off the bench, all three players could still play 32 minutes per game between the two frontcourt spots. Starting Kyle Singler in someone's place would also help to space the floor.
Smith would be the player most people would like to see the Pistons trade. However, with the season he's had, there just won't be many teams willing to take on the $43.5 million he's owed over the next three seasons. So Monroe is the big man most likely to be traded, and Sharp mentions point guard Brandon Jennings and expiring contracts Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey as additional possibilities.
Who could they trade for?
Sharp mentions Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo—who has been linked to the Pistons before—who recently returned from injury. Maybe the Celtics would be interested in a trade centered on Monroe and an expiring contract. But it seems likely that Boston general manager Danny Ainge would want to unload Gerald Wallace's three-year, $30-plus million contract in any Rondo deal.
Another named mentioned was Philadelphia 76ers small forward Evan Turner. While Turner is averaging 18.5 points per game, he's shooting under 30 percent from three on 2.6 attempts per game and has a PER under 14. The 76ers would want more than just an expiring contract in a trade for him, but the Pistons can get much for value in a trade for Monroe. A hypothetical deal of Monroe and Villanueva for Turner and Thaddeus Young would work financially.
But regardless of whether the Pistons make a trade for Rondo, Turner or some other player, that move won't guarantee them a playoff spot. A new player (or players) would have to adapt to Cheeks' system and develop chemistry with their new teammates on the fly—something the Pistons have struggled with all season.
A shakeup seems inevitable given their record over the past 10 games and their sub-.500 record, and a trade certainly would be one way to go. But a making a trade for the sake of shaking things up isn't the way to go. Particularly if a young, valuable big man like Monroe is involved, the Pistons need to make the right move, not just any move.
If the right trade doesn't come along, then perhaps the right move for the team is just re-shuffling the deck with the players it has. Simply getting Smith into his natural (and more effective position) could be enough to turn the season around.