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Offseason Outlook: Detroit Pistons

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (8th overall)
  • 2nd Round (38th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $27,875,456
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $9,437,494
  • Options: $1,270,964
  • Cap Holds: $32,509,251
  • Total: $71,093,165

Guarded optimism characterizes the vibe around the Pistons as Stan Van Gundy heads into his second offseason as the team’s coach and president of basketball operations. Armed with ample salary cap space and a lottery pick, Van Gundy has the elements in place to finally get the Pistons out of their cycle of misery. They haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons, the longest drought for any team in the watered-down Eastern Conference. It’s a shocking state of affairs for a franchise that not long ago reached the conference finals six consecutive seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Van Gundy had never missed the playoffs while coaching a full season during his career until the PIstons’ rollercoaster 32-50 campaign in 2014/15. He’s intent upon turning things around quickly and has the full backing, emotionally and financially, of owner Tom Gores to make that happen. Much of that is predicated on free agency, with two of the Pistons’ starters heading into the market in July.

Greg Monroe took the unusual step of signing the team’s qualifying offer last season as a restricted free agent, giving him the opportunity to explore his options as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Van Gundy has repeatedly stated his desire to retain Monroe, though many NBA observers expect the 6’11” power forward to wind up in New York or another city. Monroe and agent David Falk have not ruled out the Pistons but it’s unlikely they’ll break the bank to keep him. The financial flexibility and the draft pick provide other options for the Pistons to replace Monroe, a solid, low-post scorer and rebounder. Monroe has his shortcomings — he cannot stretch the floor offensively and he struggles to guard quicker players at his position.

In contrast to Monroe’s situation, the Pistons anticipate re-signing restricted free agent Reggie Jackson as their starting point guard. Van Gundy made a bold trade-deadline move by acquiring Jackson from Oklahoma City and immediately installing the Thunder backup as his floor leader. Thrilled at the opportunity, Jackson struggled in the early going as the Pistons fell out of the playoff picture but he emerged as an offensive force once he settled in. Jackson averaged 19.9 points and 10.9 assists during the last 16 games of the season.

Several other teams were in the bidding for Jackson at the trade deadline and a substantial offer sheet could come his way. But the Pistons are prepared to match any offer and Jackson has given every indication he’s staying, going so far as to organize offseason workouts with his current teammates.

Money will not be an issue. The Pistons have about $27.9MM guaranteed to five players, plus a cap hold of approximately $2.4MM for their draft pick. Factoring in roster charges for the minimum 12 roster spots, the Pistons could have as much as $33.6MM to spend with the current projected cap of $67.1MM. Even if they retain Jackson and Monroe, they should still have enough cash left over to pursue another quality free agent.

The most pressing need for Detroit is a reliable outside shooter and solid defender at small forward. It finished the season with aging veterans Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler at that spot. Prince, an unrestricted free agent, will likely pursue opportunities with contending teams. The team holds a $4.5MM option on Butler’s contract and will probably release him back into the free agent market. The Pistons will also require a starting power forward if Monroe walks.

The No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft offers a way to fill one of those holes. The draft is chock full of forwards that could be available when the Pistons select, including Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles and Sam Dekker. With backup center Joel Anthony entering unrestricted free agency, the Pistons could also shift gears and choose Willie Cauley-Stein if he’s available. That would give them a dynamic backup to franchise player Andre Drummond.

A lottery pick alone won’t resolve their issues. They must sign a top-level free agent or make a blockbuster deal to get a difference-maker at one of the forward spots. Unfortunately, many of the big names in free agency — Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Khris Middleton — are restricted and will almost certainly be retained by their current teams. Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love (if he opts out) are unlikely to seriously consider a non-contender like the Pistons.

More realistic targets would be the unrestricted Hawks duo of DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap, Magic restricted free agent Tobias Harris and the Nets’ Thaddeus Young (if he exercises his early termination option). If that fails, Van Gundy will have to find a trade partner and use the cap space to absorb a big contract.

Upgrading the talent is not the only issue confronting the Pistons this offseason. They would like to lock up Drummond before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Gores considers him a max player, so that will not be a sticking point. If they keep Jackson, they’ll have to figure out what to do with former starter Brandon Jennings, who is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Would Jennings accept a backup role at this stage of his career? It would make sense to move Jennings and his approximate $8.34MM expiring contract, but it will be tough to do that until he proves he’s still got the same explosion in his first step.

A smaller issue is the status of backup power forward Anthony Tolliver, who has a partially guaranteed $3MM contract for 2015-16. Tolliver, another midseason acquisition, impressed Van Gundy with his play and professionalism and will likely remain as the main reserve at power forward.

Last summer, Van Gundy was preoccupied with evaluating his roster and assembling a staff. He took a conservative approach to free agency — his main acquisition was shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who was signed away from the Lakers for a three-year, $18.81MM deal. He didn’t have a first-round pick because the Pistons had to convey it to the Hornets to fulfill a two-year-old trade obligation. Van Gundy can contemplate bigger moves in his second offseason without all those distractions and concerns. If the Pistons do not enter training camp with an improved roster, it won’t be for lack of trying.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The Pistons waived Smith in December and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
2 — The Pistons waived Gray in October and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next three seasons.
3 — Tolliver’s salary is partially guaranteed for $400K.
4 — Miller’s salary would be partially guaranteed for $50K if he remains under contract through July 15th, $100K if he remains under contract through the date of the team’s first regular season game, and $125K if he remains under contract through November 15th.
5 — The cap hold for Martin would be $947,276 if he opts out.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. Dana Gauruder contributed to this post.

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