It already has been an eventful off-season in the NBA and could get more interesting in the next few weeks, after free agency opens on Saturday.
But don’t expect the Detroit Pistons to generate many headlines.
The team that finished 37-45 and missed the playoffs apparently will return largely intact for its inaugural season at Little Caesars Arena, its fourth under coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy.
“I like our guys,” Van Gundy said recently. “We didn’t have a good year. We can come back with our same group and I feel with better health and guys with a little better focus, we can be a lot better next year with the same group.
“Does that mean we’re not going to do our due diligence and try to find things that make us better? Not at all. We’re always looking for ways to get better.”
If the Pistons make a significant move, it’ll have to be by trade, not free agency, because they have no salary-cap space.
The team’s top priority is a resolution with restricted free-agent shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will see what offers he can get on the market. He will receive a gigantic bump from his $3.7 million salary last season, likely $18 million or more. He might even garner a max deal of slightly more than $24 million a season. Brooklyn, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Minnesota have been mentioned as possible suitors.
The Pistons, however, are expected to match any offer. That’s a ton of money for a two-way player who averaged 13.8 points in 2016-17, but the team doesn’t have much choice. Back-up shooting guard Stanley Johnson has started seven games in two seasons and isn’t ready to step into that role. Next in line is 2017 top pick Luke Kennard.
The Pistons would have 72 hours to match an offer.
If Caldwell-Pope doesn’t sign an offer sheet he’ll likely come to terms with the Pistons. A far less-likely scenario would see Caldwell-Pope signing his tender with Detroit (close to $5 million – well below market value) in order to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
Once Caldwell-Pope is in the fold, the Pistons will have 12 players signed, not including Kennard. They have until Friday to decide whether to tender guard Reggie Bullock a $3.3 million qualifying offer.
When the dust settles, the Pistons will be close to or perhaps slightly over the $119 million luxury tax threshold. That’s a high payroll – top 10, maybe top five in the NBA – for a team that missed the playoffs.
They could use their $8.4 million mid-level exception on a backup center, since Aron Bayes declined his $6.5 million option and is likely to sign elsewhere, or a third point guard.
Van Gundy said his team expects to use both of its two-way contracts, which are essentially for the 16th and 17th players on the roster, who will bounce between the NBA and the G-League. A player on a two-way deal must have less than three years of service as a pro. He’d be guaranteed $75,000, with the chance to earn up to $250,000, depending on amount of time spent with the NBA club.
If the Pistons trade, it would likely be a big deal. Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson have been swirling in trade rumors since the deadline. While no offer has satisfied the Pistons, Van Gundy has said he would never tell a player he will not be traded.