After the news that the Pistons traded Ben Gordon and a future first round pick for Corey Maggette, questions have arisen about how Detroit should manage the addition of Maggette. Maggette is approaching the final year of his contract, worth $11M, saving the Pistons roughly $14.5M over the next two years without Ben Gordon. Should the Pistons buy-out the contract of Maggette for immediate cap relief, should they wait until his contract expires next June, or should the team look to trade him by the 2013 NBA trade deadline?
The first question is whether or not Maggette will be healthy enough to play in 2012-13. Maggette underwent successful surgery on his knee this month, but he did strain his Achilles earlier this year. He is expected to be healthy by opening night in October, but a 33-year-old Maggette with a rough history for four years is not likely to be available for a full season.
When Maggette is healthy, he can be a deadly offensive force. One thing that has always intrigued me about Maggette has been his ability to get to the line at will. Over the last ten NBA seasons, the only forwards to have had better seasons than Maggette in per-minute free throw attempts were LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He's also a solid shooter from the field, averaging a 48% eFG throughout his career. He's limited on the defensive end, but when it comes to scoring in droves, he's deadly efficient for a wing player.
That said, a 33-year-old Maggette has likely lost his first step, and the injuries he's sustained are troubling. Also, given that Detroit has younger players who deserve burn at small forward (namely Jonas Jerebko), they may want to avoid complicating the rotations with yet another pricey veteran small forward. In total, it's likely that the Pistons didn't make this trade for an on-court contributor, they made it for Maggette's expiring salary and the cap relief that follows.
So if the Pistons are looking at Maggette as a money saver, should they wait until his contract expires or buy him out early? Given that the team bought out Richard Hamilton's contract for an estimated $12M last year, they may not be adverse to paying Maggette early and letting him walk. Add to that the contract amnesty clause they could use on Villanueva, and a week from now the Pistons could have only $43M on the books, $38M if Maxiell opts out of his contract's final season.
Should the Pistons slice the books and make some moves in free agency? That's a tough sell for a few reasons. First, the team would be paying three expensive players, Richard Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva and Corey Maggette a total of $25M this next season not to play basketball. Owner Tom Gores didn't make his billions with ugly financial decisions like that. Furthermore, building a team in free agency is usually a failed strategy, and it failed miserably for the Pistons the last time they attempted it. The best option may be to spend wise money on underrated, inexpensive free agents with the cap exceptions the team has and to explore trades to build the core.
There's no real sense in buying out Maggette since he alone won't present enough cap savings to spend more than the MLE Detroit already has at its disposal. It would be a wise move to keep him on contract and at the end of the bench and see what nibbles can be had closer to the trade deadline. If he is healthy and even cracks the rotation, he might fetch a decent price on the market-- enough for a late first round pick or a role player from another team. The expiring salary alone is enough to interest many teams at the deadline.
The easiest option rewards Detroit for doing nothing with Maggette. Let him walk next June and let his salary come off the books organically. This is the question Detroit's front-office is currently considering. It may be that this move is a precursor to something else. Given Detroit's new logjam of pricey veteran small forwards, it could allow Dumars the opportunity to move one or the other, like Tayshaun Prince, in exchange for something that better suits a young team-in-transition. For now, the decisions Detroit is presented with is something for fans to get excited about.