State of the Union
The Detroit Pistons are coming off of a 20-46 COVID shortened season, good for 13th in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons had the 20th best offensive rating, 108.8, and 22nd best defensive rating, 112.3, good for a net rating of -3.5, 23rd best in the league.
The Pistons find themselves at the start of a true rebuild, kicked off by the trading of Andre Drummond to Cleveland at the deadline this past season. The team still has 2 years, $76 million committed to Blake Griffin, who has struggled to stay healthy, playing 58, 75, and 18 games respectfully in the past three seasons. Other than Griffin, Detroit’s cap books are relatively clean. The team only has one player currently under contract past the 2021/2022 season, and that player is promising young forward Sekou Doumbouya.
This summer, the team should be in asset accumulation mode. With close to $25 million in cap space projected, pending confirmed salary cap numbers set, the team could look to take advantage of the current economic crisis within the league. Detroit could be a bad contract dumping ground of sorts, where teams looking to shed salary could dump their undesirables. Detroit could ask for picks or young players in compensation for taking these bad contracts.
As far as free agency, the team has really one of their own free agents that they should focus on bringing back and that is Christian Wood. Wood impressed this past season, especially with the departure of Drummond. The trade of Drummond led to Wood being given a much bigger role, as he averaged 35 minutes a game and 16 shots a game, compared to 19 minutes and 7 shots a game before the trade. Most impressively, his shooting efficiency actually got better with the uptick in production. After the All-Star break, Wood put up 24 points and 10 rebounds on a nightly basis on great efficiency, putting up shooting splits of 57/39/76, and Wood showed that he could score from all three levels, imperative for a big man in the modern era.
The Pistons have been chasing the 8th seed in the East for the last 4-5 years and haven’t had a winning record since the 2007-2008 season. It appears the team has finally committed to a full on rebuild with the trade of Andre Drummond. Detroit should acquire as many picks and young players as possible, and try to hit the hard reset button through the draft. It is time to truly embrace the tank in Detroit.
Salary Cap Analysis
-Current Cap Room: ($41,970,653)
-Max Cap Room: $42,334,253
-Projected Cap Room: $23,432,727
-Path to a Max: Not likely. This would involve Tony Snell turning down his player option which, well, ain’t gonna happen. Could also do this if they find a trade for Blake Griffin which, well, ain’t gonna happen either.
-Best Contract on the Books: With really only one contract on the books past 2021/2022 that’s not their pick in the upcoming draft, this is Sekou Doumbouya by default.
-Worst Contract on the Books: Blake Griffin. 2 years $76 million left on one of the worst teams in the league sucks. Even in full health, Griffin is past his prime, and full health is probably not attainable anymore given his recent injury history. Unless they can trade Griffin in a net neutral trade in terms of assets, there’s really no need to urgently try to get off his contract. Who knows, maybe someone will be desperate enough to give up assets for him.
-Potential Offseason Targets: Fred Van Vleet, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jerami Grant, Malik Beasley, Sterling Brown, Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, De’anthony Melton, Wenyen Gabriel
The Big Question(s)
Have the Detroit Pistons fully embraced the rebuild? With the trading of franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond, it appears that way. However, team owner Tom Gores is infamous for trying to make the playoffs year in and year out, which has left the team mired in mediocrity for the last decade. The team looks to be one of the worst teams in the league next year, as the team currently projects a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, and Blake Griffin before free agency. Rose’s play last year may have sparked some interest around the league and could be seen as a valuable trade option for teams in a shallow market for talent at the guard position. The Pistons should look to trade Rose for assets, as he has no future in Detroit with the team rebuilding. The same goes for Blake Griffin, although I am not sure the team could trade him and receive any assets in return, given his contract, age, and health.
Another question posing the Pistons this offseason is the free agency of Christian Wood. What type of deal does the team offer him? With Detroit only holding his early bird rights, they are in a bit of a bind when it comes to Wood. They could use their own cap space on him, but that would hamstring other plans the team has with that space. The easiest solution for the Pistons would be to use up all of their cap space while holding onto Wood’s cap hold, then signing Wood using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is just under $10 million. The issue is if Wood gets an offer from another team, such as Atlanta, New York, or Charlotte, at a number bigger than that. The team needs to have done their due diligence on the market Christian Wood will have this summer, as they have big salary cap implications depending on it.
The Offseason Playbook
The Pistons are one of the few lucky teams this offseason with real, cold hard cap space. That means they will be able to key, strategic decisions that could either help or hurt the franchise. They could use their cap space in one of three ways; Absorbing bad salary around the league while being compensated in draft picks, signing their owning free agents, or signing free agents from other teams. Let’s take a look at the ways they could go about these three methods.
Absorbing Bad Salary
While the financial crunch that will inevitably hit the league will be bad for the league in general and most teams in it, it could actually prove to be helpful for the Pistons. There are going to be teams that are cash poor and will need to shed salary to either a) not pay the luxury tax or b) lessen their luxury tax bill. This is where the Pistons could come in. Say a team like the Boston Celtics, who are in line for a hefty luxury tax bill, absolutely has to lessen their tax bill because ownership demands it. A deal between the Celtics and Pistons could look something like this:
-Detroit receives Gordon Hayward, 2020 26th Pick
-Boston receives: Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, $35 million in luxury tax savings
A similar deal could be had with the Philadelphia 76ers:
-Detroit Receives: Al Horford, 2020 22nd Pick
-Philadelphia Receives: Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, $27 million in luxury tax savings.
Resigning Own Free Agents
This scenario has everything to do with the free agency of Christian Wood and what type of deal he commands. The other free agents this summer for the team are: Brandon Knight, John Henson, Thon Maker, Langston Galloway, and Jordan McRae.
-Christian Wood: Wood’s market value is one of the main predicaments for the Pistons. As previously mentioned, the team only has his early bird rights so is give two options to resign him; use their cap space to sign him or use the non-taxpayer MLE to sign him and use his low cap hold to sign other free agents that brings the team over the salary cap. The latter seems like the best option for Detroit; however cap space teams might offer Wood a deal a better deal. Wood might command a market in the mid teens annually, and the Pistons should be fully prepared to make an offer in that range.
-John Henson: Henson could save a decent backup center and should be able to be brought back on the cheap, if not the minimum. It wouldn’t hurt to bring back Henson.
-Brandon Knight: I am thinking that Brandon Knight’s services will not be retained.
-Thon Maker: Forever stuck as a prospect, Maker still hasn’t been able to fully actualize his value as a shot blocker and floor spacer. Anything north of $5 million a year and I would let him walk.
-Langston Galloway: Galloway was a bright spot for the Pistons last year and should be brought back as a reliable bench shooter. 2-3 years at $7-$10 million annually would be a good deal, and it would be a potential future trade chip.
Bringing in Outside Free Agents
Say the Pistons don’t end up bring any of their own free agents back outside of Wood at the MLE and have cap space to work with. There are three categories of free agents that they could target, and they are:
-Big money free agents: Fred Van Vleet, Jerami Grant
-Proven Restricted Free Agents: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Malik Beasley, Dario Saric
-Unproven Fliers: Sterling Brown, Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, De’anthony Melton, Wenyen Gabriel, Wesley Iwundu
-7th Pick: Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes, Onyeka Okongwu, Isaac Okoro
Nick Thoreson is a young professional working in finance who is passionate about the NBA and especially all things salary cap related.