- Josh Smith ($13,500,000)
- Brandon Jennings ($8,000,000)
- Will Bynum ($2,915,908)
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($2,772,480)
- Andre Drummond ($2,568,360)
- Luigi Datome ($1,750,000)
- Kyle Singler ($1,090,000)
- Tony Mitchell ($816,482)
Free Agents / Cap Holds
- 2nd Round (38th overall)
- Guaranteed Salary: $33,413,230
- Options: $7,000,000
- Non-Guaranteed Salary: $1,764,645
- Cap Holds: $35,836,135
- Total: $78,014,010
The Pistons took the first steps toward erasing the painful memories of the poor decisions that marked the final seasons of Joe Dumars‘ reign as president of basketball operations when they hired Stan Van Gundy to both coach and run the front office. Just six days later, Van Gundy was greeted with an unfortunate reminder of just how deep a hole the franchise is in, as Detroit slipped to ninth in the draft lottery and had to give up its first-round pick to Charlotte as a result. The opportunity to draft a shooter would have come in handy amid a market in which shooting is so highly valued, and hopes for a quick turnaround took a major hit. Still, the Pistons were going to have to give up a first-round pick to the Hornets anyway as a result of the Ben Gordon/Corey Maggette trade, and the clearing of that obligation gives Van Gundy greater flexibility to make wiser trades with the team’s future first-rounders. It also gives the first-time executive a clearer view of the job ahead of him.
The restricted free agency of Greg Monroe looms as an early test of Van Gundy’s front office meddle. There are conflicting reports about Van Gundy’s willingness to spend on the up-and-coming big man, though he spoke with Monroe and agent David Falk within a day of his hiring. Others appear just as ready to talk with Falk and Monroe as soon as they get the chance to do so on July 1st. The Hornets and Lakers are likely suitors, and a report from January put the Wizards in that category, too. The Warriors had interest in trading for him at the deadline. Hawks GM Danny Ferry has strong ties to Falk, who represented Ferry during his playing days, and the same is true of Hornets owner Michael Jordan. Monroe is already eyeing destinations outside of Detroit, including the Pelicans, who play in his native New Orleans. The former seventh overall pick is still a few days shy of his 24th birthday despite having averaged 15.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game over the last three seasons.
All of that seems adds up to plenty of reason to believe that Monroe will have a chance to sign a max offer sheet. It’s less certain whether he’ll have a chance to sign a max deal outright with Detroit, or whether Van Gundy would match a max offer sheet and yank him back to the Motor City. Much of it hinges on Josh Smith. Van Gundy was cryptic during his introductory press conference about his belief in the efficacy of the Pistons shooting-deficient front line, though he offered high praise for Andre Drummond. The commonly held belief is that the Pistons’ experiment with Smith, Monroe and Drummond in the same lineup is a failure, so presuming Van Gundy agrees with that and judging by his fondness for Drummond, it sounds like there’s room for only one of Smith and Monroe. Still, while a max deal that keeps Monroe in Detroit would seemingly indicate that Van Gundy is confident he can find a trade partner for Smith, there are other plausible outcomes.
Detroit is in line for nearly $38MM in commitments for next season, given Jonas Jerebko‘s intention to opt in. The starting salary in a max deal for Monroe would come in at around $14MM, since he’s only eligible for a max equivalent to roughly 25% of the salary cap. That would give the Pistons 10 players under contract and about $10MM in available cap space, enough leeway to re-sign Rodney Stuckey or go after a shooter with money that would exceed the value of the mid-level exception. Van Gundy, with a five-year contract and plenty of rope from owner Tom Gores, has no mandate to make the playoffs next season, and the team’s chances of doing so would be dicey even if it was an imperative. In his role as coach, Van Gundy could rotate Smith, Monroe and Drummond solely at center and power forward, thus making one of them a reserve, biding time while Smith’s contract creeps toward its midway point, which comes at the end of next season. It will become increasingly easier to trade Smith as his contract draws closer to an end, and 2016/17 would be the only season of overlap between Smith’s contract and a new, more expensive deal for Drummond.
Van Gundy may also simply settle for whatever opposing teams would be willing to give up in a trade for Smith, still just 28 and an intriguing player in the proper context. That might be the quickest way to move on from last summer’s mistake, providing Van Gundy wouldn’t have to surrender a protected first-round pick that could eventually create a repeat of this year’s lottery nightmare.
Van Gundy’s decision-making regarding his three most prominent frontcourt players overshadows what the team can do with its cap flexibility this summer. It’ll be a player’s market for shooters this offseason, with Kyle Lowry, Trevor Ariza and Jodie Meeks the only soon-to-be free agents within the top 20 in three-pointers made this past season, aside from Carmelo Anthony. Lowry would make an awkward fit with Brandon Jennings around, but Ariza and Meeks would fit within the $10MM in cap flexibility the team is likely to have if it gives Monroe a max deal. That would leave little left over for Stuckey, and while he seems unlikely to see salaries close to the $8.5MM he made this past season, signing Monroe and a starting-caliber shooter would probably spell the end of Stuckey’s tenure in Detroit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Gundy renounces the team’s rights to Stuckey to remove his eight-figure cap hold from the team’s books, since even if they want to re-sign him, the Pistons probably wouldn’t need Bird rights to do so.
Van Gundy will probably also elect to decline the team option for Chauncey Billups, as unpopular a decision as it might be, considering the standing that the 2004 NBA Finals MVP has in Detroit. The 37-year-old has given indications that he might simply retire, which would make it easy on the team. The decision surrounding Billups then would center around what sort of front office role, if any, Van Gundy would offer him. There are no shortage of other candidates to fill the GM position the team is creating to give Van Gundy some help, and I’d be surprised if the Pistons gave Billups the chance to fulfill his dream of becoming an NBA GM so soon. The top front office job will be Van Gundy’s for the foreseeable future, so it’s conceivable Billups pursues his future as an executive elsewhere.
Van Gundy’s future as an executive begins now, and the challenges he faces aren’t exactly a dream scenario. He certainly hasn’t been one to shirk a tough situation, and he probably laid out a firm vision for the summer ahead in the 45-page presentation he gave in his interview for the Pistons job. Players have bristled under his coaching, but he’s coaxed them into giving them the performance he wants. That’ll probably continue in Detroit, but the question is whether he’ll be able to impress upon opposing team executives with similar effectiveness.
* — Jerebko has stated his intention to opt in and remain with the team next season.
** — Harrellson’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 20th.
*** — Siva’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before July 12th.