Pistons Primer: The Offseason

The Pistons adjourned for the summer last Thursday, after a 32-50 campaign that was by far the worst mark of Stan Van Gundy’s coaching career. Year 1 turned into years 1-4 for that group, with turnover and injuries sidetracking any chance at continuity throughout the year. Still, the Pistons were a .500 team since Christmas, and it appears they’ve identified their core players moving forward, while maintaining flexibility to add to that group. Van Gundy spent his first season in Detroit restructuring the basketball operation and stripping down the roster and payroll to a few core pieces and exchangeable short-term deals. Now he looks to take it a step further. Van Gundy’s moves this offseason will be his most critical yet, and there are plenty of questions to answer and statements to address.

How much will the possible salary cap explosion of 2017 matter?

The NBA’s salary cap this season was $63.1 million. Thursday the league informed teams that they project it at $108 million for 2017-18. That’s a 71% increase over the next 3 years (it’s projected at $68 next year and $89 in 2016-17.) This will vault the league and its front offices into unchartered territory in terms of spending and maintaining competitive balance, and could very well lead to another lockout in 2017. But before we get to that point, the idea of a much-expanded cap in the years to come will likely boost every franchise’s willingness to spend freely this summer. A team like Golden State, for instance, will likely match any max offer for Draymond Green, knowing that they have Klay Thompson locked up through 2019 and Steph Curry through 2017. They have David Lee and Andre Iguodala coming off the books next year, so maxing out Green may put them into the luxury tax next season, but they can expect cap relief sooner than later, and the luxury tax system was set up to be exponentially more punitive as teams stay in tax territory for a few years. One year in the tax is tenable, three is not. The TV deal may have undercut the new CBA’s efforts toward competitive balance before they even had a chance to take place. Of course, when you consider “max” contracts, they’re determined based off of percentages of a team’s overall cap. So a maximum deal could be worth roughly $15 million this year and next, then jump to $20+ million when the cap jumps. Teams will have a lot of questions this summer about what the influx of cash will mean when it comes, but as we’ve seen in the past, NBA GMs typically take “financial uncertainty” and turn it into “spend now, worry later.”

What’s the deal with Greg?

Monroe’s agent, David Falk, created a minor stir by speaking at length to Marc Berman of the New York Post last week about Monroe landing in New York this summer. Greg seemed to confirm his interest in the Knicks when he sang Phil Jackson’s praises at shootaround last Wednesday, but he was also simply answering a question posed to him by a New York beat writer. Chances are good that the writing was on the wall last summer, when Monroe signed a one-year qualifying offer to enter unrestricted free agency this summer. It’s likely he’ll find a change of scenery that seems like a better fit, and God bless him if he does. But don’t count out a return either. There’s a reason the Lakers and Knicks will be throwing a lot of money around this summer – they suck. In New York you have the overpaid, disinterested Carmelo Anthony and a coach who’s in over his head. In Los Angeles you have the overpaid, way-too-interested Kobe Bryant and a coach who’s in over his head. In Detroit you have Stan Van Gundy and a young core you’ve played with for 2+ years. The Pistons are trending up. If the numbers are all the same, the Moose may decide the grass isn’t always greener.

What will Jackson’s number be?

The aforementioned cap explosion over the next few years means Reggie Jackson will almost certainly sign a max deal this summer, and the Pistons will likely be the team offering it or matching it. Jackson’s numbers in 27 games with Detroit, 17.6 ppg and 9.2 apg, should encourage Piston fans that locking him up is a wise investment. Plus he likes being here and appreciates the faith put in him by Van Gundy and his staff. Plus he enjoys playing with KCP and Drummond. Reggie will likely be the Pistons’ highest paid player next season.

Will the Pistons max-extend Drummond this summer?

Tom Gores addressed this at halftime of the Knicks game last Wednesday. Drummond finished the season strong, dominating the glass in the month of March at historic rates. The last time a player not named Drummond had 100 offensive and defensive rebounds in a calendar month was 1998. He’s done it twice since. Van Gundy wants him to work on his defense, which is what stands between Drummond being a good, young player and an All-Star. If Drummond turns into the anchor of a top-10 defense and continues dominating the glass, he’ll command the same respect given to Deandre Jordan and the league’s best centers. Drummond may never be the shot blocker that Jordan is, but his overall ceiling is higher.

The Pistons still need shooting.

Despite KCP’s development and Jodie Meeks’ late season resurgence, the Pistons need offensive-minded wings and forwards to surround Jackson-Drummond pick and roll sets and Drummond’s post-ups, obviously even more-so if Monroe jets. The draft and free agency will provide plenty of options: Justise Winslow, Sam Dekker, Kristaps Porzingis, and Frank Kaminsky are all potential forward prospects who can shoot and may be available when the Pistons select. In free agency, players like Demarre Carroll, Jae Crowder, Marreese Speights, Mirza Teletovic, Mike Dunleavy, Wesley Johnson and Omri Casspi could all be targets. Van Gundy wants the core guys to improve defensively this summer, but it’ll be on him to upgrade the same area he needed to last summer: shooting. The Pistons were bottom-5 in field goal percentage and bottom-5 in true shooting this year.

The Pistons need to nail the draft pick.

Van Gundy reminded the media last Thursday that the pick will likely be a 19-year old kid, and so they’ll obviously focus on long-term projection vs. immediate impact when considering their selection this year, which has a 72% of being the 8th pick. I mentioned above some of the possible targets, but one thing is clear: they will need to have complementary skills next to Drummond, KCP and Jackson. That doesn’t mean it has to be a stretch-4 or 3-and-D small forward, but that might be a good place to start looking. Either way, they can’t afford a miss this year, and they won’t want to wait too long for a prospect to develop either. They need this pick to follow the timeline of the young core’s development: He should be able to start for a good NBA team by the end of next season.

After starting 5-23, Van Gundy began the basketball cleansing at The Palace. He overturned the roster and now here is likely your shell group moving forward, obviously with some additions and perhaps a few subtractions.

PG: Reggie Jackson (RFA), Brandon Jennings, Spencer Dinwiddie

SG: KCP, Jodie Meeks

SF: Caron Butler, Cartier Martin, Quincy Miller

PF: Anthony Tolliver

C: Andre Drummond, Joel Anthony

There’s some real potential in that group, and there’s a lot of cap flexibility. Stretching Josh Smith’s contract was a bitter pill to swallow, but it freed up $8 million in cap space the next 2 years. The Pistons can be a player in free agency, but Piston fans shouldn’t expect a stud. Van Gundy said he wanted to hit “singles” last year in free agency and I think he did. DJ Augustin and Butler were both shrewd signings. Martin not so much. Too early to tell with Meeks, although his first season was underwhelming. The Pistons will likely treat free agency similarly this summer, looking to hit a few “singles” or “doubles,” rather than swinging for the fences.

Here are the key dates of the summer:

May 12-17th – 2015 NBA Draft Combine

Tuesday, May 19th – 2015 NBA NBA Lottery

Thursday, June 25th – 2015 NBA Draft

NBA Free Agency – Opens July 1st

Orlando Summer League – Sometime in July, dates yet to be determined.

The Pistons need to ace this offseason. They have a great opportunity to add to the young core and identify and maintain flexibility moving forward. There are a lot of questions about the league’s financial landscape moving forward, but Van Gundy and company will likely stay the course and let other front offices overreact to the windfall coming in 2017. If Van Gundy can hit a few more “singles” and “doubles” this summer, the Pistons will be looking as good as the Tigers.

By Jake Chapman