Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
No one can accuse Joe Dumarsof being boring. After turning in a combined 54 wins across the last two seasons, Dumars did more than just relieve coach Lawrence Frank of his job, he overhauled the entire roster.
The Pistons got the shakeup started when they inked Josh Smith to a four-year, $54MM deal that could escalate to $56MM in total if he hits on certain bonuses. Smith was arguably the top prize to be had on the open market after Chris Paul and Dwight Howard came off the board, and neither one of those elite guys were going to give a team in a four-year playoff drought any real consideration. In Smith, the Pistons get a high-flying forward who can change the game on either side of the floor. The $56MM price tag isn’t chump change, but it’s far less than the max contract that Smith spent all season clamoring for. The discounted rate – if you can call a guaranteed average annual value of $13MM a “discount” – is due to two main factors. First, Smith had something of a down year in 2012/13 on the heels of a career season in 2011/12. Secondly, with all due respect to Smith, he was never really in the max contract conversation anyway. The market for Smith also didn’t grow in the way that he or agent Wallace Prather would have hoped. The Warriors were fans, but they bowed out of the process when they landed Andre Iguodala. Atlanta had some interest in retaining Smith, but the club couldn’t have been thrilled with the forward openly complaining throughout the season and that probably played a role when it came time to negotiate. The Celtics also put their toe in the water, but they went in a very different direction this summer. At any rate, Detroit got a real two-way threat in Smith and it didn’t take long for them to pair him with another disgruntled star player.
In late July, the Pistons struck a deal with the Bucks to land Brandon Jennings via a sign-and-trade deal. Detroit gave up guard Brandon Knight (plus Viacheslav Kravtsov and Khris Middleton) to get Jennings, who they inked to a three-year, ~$25MM pact. Giving up Knight wasn’t easy for Dumars & Co. – he’s a talented young guard in his own right who has the killer work ethic to realize his potential. While some say that Jennings doesn’t have the greatest attitude in the world, he offers freakish athleticism at a premium position. Even though Jennings recanted his comments about not wanting to re-sign in Milwaukee, it’s safe to assume that he’s happy to be moving on to a new club. The Pistons hope that a change of scenery will suit Jennings well and it is very possible that the 24-year-old can blossom into a first-tier point guard in the Association. In Jennings’ defense, he spent the first four years of his NBA career under Scott Skiles, a coach who could probably rile Mother Teresa up.
In Detroit, Jennings and Smith will be playing under longtime NBA coach Maurice Cheeks. Cheeks found success for a time as the Blazers’ head man, but he was fired by the 76ers at the quarter-mark of the 2008/09 season after back-to-back losing seasons. Cheeks probably wasn’t the sexiest choice for the job and some Pistons fans probably would have preferred finalist Nate McMillan or would have liked to see Brian Shaw get an interview for the gig, but Cheeks has the experience to command respect from the Pistons’ older and younger players.
Speaking of youth, the Pistons are quite excited about No. 8 overall pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This wasn’t the strongest draft class, in fact, it could prove to be one of the weakest ones of the last decade, but the Georgia product made a strong impression on a number of teams heading into June. The two-guard offers a sweet shooting stroke on offense and is also a tenacious defender. No one expects him to develop Allen Iverson-style handles, but he’ll have to improve his ball-handling to avoid getting stripped at the next level. If he gets that figured out, KCP should have a bright future in the league, even if he’s not destined for superstardom. Early on in the season, the 20-year-old is already seeing considerable minutes in the Pistons’ rotation.
Aside from Smith and Jennings, the Pistons made a few other notable signings. Dumars brought back fan favorite Chauncey Billups to Detroit and it only cost him a two-year, $5.5MM deal (year two is a team option) and an apology. Billups was still a little sore over the 2008 trade that shipped him to the Nuggets for Allen Iverson, but that’s all water under the bridge as the veteran guard is back with the team that he won a championship ring with. The deal was somewhat surprising since Billups also had interest from contenders like the Nets and Spurs. The Pistons also inked Gigi Datome to a two-year deal, beating out multiple teams with serious interest in the Italian import. Datome’s agent claims that he had more money on the table from other clubs – the Celtics, Bucks, Rockets, Suns, Spurs, and Grizzlies were among his suitors – the Pistons offered him the best opportunity.
Will Bynum is back with the club on a two-year deal, but other notable free agents weren’t retained by Detroit. Speedy guard Jose Calderon wound up signing with the Mavericks in mid-July and agent Mark Bartelstein chalked up his departure to a matter of “timing,” even though there was interest on both sides. Looking back on it, it seems likely that Dumars had a feeling he could swing an S&T deal for Jennings and didn’t want to tie up cash (or playing time) in another guard. Jason Maxiell, who spent the first eight seasons of his career with Detroit, was not asked back before he took a 50% pay drop to sign with the Magic. The PIstons did have some interest in retaining veteran forward Corey Maggette, but he wound up signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Spurs in late September and getting cut weeks later.
While several non-contending clubs are banking on building through the talent-rich 2014 Draft or spending big bucks in next summer’s free agent frenzy, the Pistons seized the opportunity to take a big step forward this past offseason. It’s hard to see this Detroit team getting a home-court advantage playoff spot in 2013/14, but they can certainly make some noise in the East and set themselves up to contend the following season. Even after dropping big bucks on Smith and giving Jennings a nice chunk of change as well, they’re projected to have $20MM of breathing room in the summer of 2014. Championship caliber Deeeeee-troit basketball isn’t quite back yet, but it might not be far away.