Too Many Guaranteed Deals Leave Pistons In Bind

NBA teams commonly carry more than 15 players during the offseason, when they’re allowed as many as 20, but just about every summer, a few teams end up in an especially tenuous situation. This year, three teams — the Timberwolves, Celtics and Pistons, have already promised fully guaranteed salaries to more than 15 players. The Celtics had 17 full guarantees before they waived Zoran Dragic, though the Heat had sent over enough cash to cover his salary when they traded Dragic to Boston earlier in the offseason. Boston, like Minnesota, now has 16 full guarantees, and while both teams are in a tough spot, the Pistons face perhaps the most difficult decisions, since they have 17 full guarantees and must offload not one but two fully guaranteed deals.

The question marks regarding the health of Brandon Jennings, who tore his Achilles tendon in January, cast a shadow. Jennings had reportedly been expecting as of two months ago that he’d be ready for training camp, but uncertainty still abounds. Spencer Dinwiddie called it “the biggest elephant in the room” and said that no one knows whether Jennings can start the season on time, as Keith Langlois of recently relayed.

The fate of Dinwiddie, one of four point guards among those 17 with fully guaranteed deals, seems largely tied to Jennings. Dinwiddie’s contract runs through 2016/17, but this is the final guaranteed season, and his salary is only slightly more than $845K this year, the one-year veteran’s minimum. Small forward Darrun Hilliard is making less, an even $600K, but the Pistons just drafted him 38th overall this summer. Of course, Detroit used last year’s No. 38 overall pick on Dinwiddie, so giving up either of them would cost the Pistons an investment of a high second-rounder.

Cartier Martin possesses the next lowest guaranteed salary on the team, at about $1.271MM. He averaged just 8.6 minutes per game in 23 appearances this past season, a level of playing time that he apparently wasn’t pleased with, but his teammates encouraged him to opt in for this season nonetheless. The Pistons and Martin agreed to the deal on the first day of free agency in 2014, which made it all the more surprising when Stan Van Gundy, who doubles as coach and president of basketball operations, didn’t use him much in 2014/15. Thus, it’s hard to predict what sort of value the Pistons place on having Martin on the roster, though he’d seem at risk of getting cut.

The same is probably true of Danny Granger, though he’s set to make nearly $2.171MM. Granger hasn’t made more than 41 appearances since the 2011/12 season, the last in a string of five straight years in which he led the Pacers in scoring and the last before injuries robbed him of his effectiveness. As with Jennings, Granger’s health is uncertain, and a better understanding of it will help the Pistons figure out how to maneuver.

The Pistons benefit from a large number of medium-level salaries to help facilitate trades. Reggie Jackson has the team’s only eight-figure salary, and he’s ineligible to be traded until January 15th anyway. The Pistons can’t trade Aron Baynes or Joel Anthony until after the season starts, either, since they both signed new deals this summer, and certainly the team isn’t about to give up Andre Drummond, but that still leaves several candidates. Jennings would seem like one of them, though he’d no doubt be more difficult to trade before he gets healthy than after.

The stretch provision gives the Pistons another opportunity to excise guaranteed salaries, or at least a portion of them as far as this season is concerned. Monday is the last day for teams to use the stretch provision to spread salaries for this coming season. The Pistons used the stretch most notoriously on Josh Smith last year, but they also used it on Aaron Gray before the start of this past season.

How do you see the Pistons sorting out their guaranteed salary dilemma? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

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