Trade Grades: Bucks Grant Thon Maker's Request With Pistons Deal
The Bucks and Pistons swapped former lottery picks on Wednesday, with Stanley Johnson headed to Milwaukee in exchange for Thon Maker in a straight one-for-one trade. While it certainly won’t be the biggest needle-mover in the next 24 hours or so, the deal does have some implications for both sides. Both players get a much-needed change of scenery, and the risk feels minimal both ways. Let’s grade the deal.
While Milwaukee may not directly bolster its playoff rotation with this move—Johnson isn’t guaranteed to unseat Tony Snell from their wing rotation—they are at least adding a more usable piece from a positional standpoint, as Maker had fallen behind D.J. Wilson in the pecking order. There was not a crazy bull market for his services, either, given how his value has seemed to depreciate in each of his three seasons. Maker’s upside, despite being selected 10th overall in 2016, has looked limited, and it became apparent this season that he was not part of the Bucks’ long-term plans. Maker was unsettled and looking for playing time, and the Bucks are no longer on the hook for his $3.5 million guaranteed in 2019-20. Any element of financial flexibility is key for Milwaukee as they try to build a title-caliber roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo.
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The money the Bucks create, in addition to what is essentially a free look at Johnson, who will be a restricted free agent this summer (provided Milwaukee extends the qualifying offer), is a reasonable play in return. Although his career has stalled, his jump shooting has not much improved and he was unable to secure a starting role this season, Johnson is still just 22 years old and at least adds some depth at a position of value. If the Bucks decide they want to try and offload Snell, whose contract seems likely to become a long-tail impediment to their cap setup, they have another option to replace him. From here, Milwaukee can judge whether Johnson is worth trying to bring back next season and explore the buyout market. It’s not a flashy trade, but it’s a calculated one.
No matter how you feel about what potential he has left, Johnson’s time in Detroit was approaching its endpoint regardless, and netting Maker as a flier for next season isn’t a horrible gamble. Although his value is waning, he deserves a chance to play more, and should get one with the Pistons as part of the rotation behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Detroit sent Reggie Bullock to the Lakers for Svi Mykhailiuk, and that trade coupled with this one keeps the Pistons more comfortably below the tax line. At the end of the day, at least Detroit is getting something for two players they were going to lose anyway.
The issue here is that the Pistons are currently a team in the playoff hunt at 24–29, and neither trade they’ve made in the last 24 hours necessarily bolsters their case to do that. With three big-money players on the roster in Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, Detroit has reason to at least try and win now, and just lost two parts of their wing rotation (Bullock started all 44 of his games this season) without bringing back anything bankable. This likely means more minutes for a group of players including Glenn Robinson III and rookies Bruce Brown and Khyri Thomas, all of whom would benefit from more run.
Still, this does call into question exactly when the Pistons are aiming to get serious. Detroit has been involved in talks with Memphis for Mike Conley, but at a glance can’t offer much in the way of desirable assets. Griffin is 29 and in midst of a terrific statistical season, but was acquired by the previous regime. His contract along with that of Andre Drummond has the Pistons more or less financially hamstrung for the next couple seasons. Small moves like these don’t bring them closer to immediate success, nor do they facilitate a rebuild. You certainly can’t blame them for playing for next year—the product has been underwhelming, after all—but Detroit continues to tread water. Getting stuck in the middle is painful, and that’s where the Pistons are right now.