In the summer of 2012, Detroit made just one move in free agency, the signing of 25-year-old rookie center Viacheslav Kravtsov. This quiet free agency period was the least active in recent memory, possibly the quietest of Joe Dumars career as general manager. It leaves us with little to talk about in retrospect, so instead we will look forward to the opportunities of the summer ahead. Since the Pistons still have so much to change, what can they do to better themselves in the free agent market of 2013?
Detroit Pistons Free Agents of 2013
- Corey Maggette
- Charlie Villanueva (Player Option for 2013-14: $8,580,000)
- Jason Maxiell
- Will Bynum
- Austin Daye (Pistons Qualifying Offer: $4,135,905)
There are two safe assumptions to make about Detroit's own free agents. First, Charlie Villanueva will likely exercise his player option for the 2013-14 season, earning him nearly $9M next season. Second, Detroit may not extend Austin Daye the qualifying offer that is their option, making him an unrestricted free agent. Daye has been shooting well this season, but $4M+ seems beyond his actual value. Would Daye find an offer sheet worth more than that amount in restricted free agency? Likely not, and Detroit might find the risk of unrestricted free agency more suitable than a hefty qualifying offer. Of course, this assumes that Detroit wants to retain Daye, which may not be the case.
Given these assumptions, Detroit can expect to see $28,229,012 come off the books this summer. With the expiring players assumed above plus the $6,069,767 Richard Hamilton is due this season, Detroit will be left with $42,281,513 in salary to 11 players prior to the 2013 draft. If Detroit's first round pick remains in protected range, it'll likely add $2M in salary plus another $500k for its second round draft selection.
Barring any trades, the most likely scenario has the Pistons entering free agency in 2013 with $45M in salary committed to 13 players. Under the current salary cap of $58M, the Pistons will have roughly $13M to spend on free agents as well as a full mid-level exception.
(Note that Detroit still has the option to use the amnesty provision from the last CBA to cut a contract signed before the recent deal. Detroit could use this to part ways with Charlie Villanueva this summer, but this is very unlikely.)
Detroit Pistons 2013 Free Agency Needs
If Detroit does not extend its own free agents and it does not make any trades prior to 2013's free agency period, what are the needs the team may look to address? The team would be losing two guard-forwards (Corey Maggette, Austin Daye), a power forward (Jason Maxiell) and a point guard (Will Bynum). The Pistons might need to address both guard positions and find a player who can switch off between power forward and center off the bench.
If Detroit is going to use its cap flexibility on free agents this summer, it may want to consider addressing future needs. Next summer, when Charlie Villanueva's contract expires, the team will be looking to extend its own free agents (Greg Monroe) instead of bringing in help from the market. That would leave Detroit a bit thin up front, with only Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Viacheslav Kravtsov on the roster plus Jonas Jerebko being played out-of-position. Of those, Monroe is the only go to frontcourt scorer while the rest are largely clean-up players. The team may need to add another frontcourt player who is capable of playing both big positions while bringing a bit of versatility on offense. Think Antonio McDyess for the Going to Work crew.
In the backcourt, Detroit's needs are much more pressing. In losing Will Bynum (and this isn't saying much), the Pistons do not have a player who can be relied upon to run a five man offense. Both of Detroit's primary guards, Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight, are wildly inconsistent iso guards that struggle when creating for their teammates. Some might point to a backup point guard as a primary need, but it goes much deeper than that. The team needs a passing guard that can run the offense for 30 minutes a game either off the bench or in the starting lineup. They may not find a long-term solution in this free agent class, and may need to instead look for draft and trade opportunities. Furthermore, if they find a passing guard this summer, it may require the team to part ways with one of its two combo guards to make room in the rotation.
Detroit Pistons 2013 Free Agent Options
First, it's important to note that despite the $13M it could offer one free agent, other teams can offer more money, more wins and better media opportunities. Technically, the Pistons could use the amnesty provision on Charlie Villanueva and then offer a max contract to Chris Paul, but there are other teams that can offer more than money to entertain Paul. His own Clippers can also offer him a max contract, not to mention the best win/loss record in the league plus the second largest media market in the United States. Therefor, if you see me exclude a few of the top tier free agents, I do so with good reason.
Darren Collison (restricted free agent): Collison might just be the best of the Will Bynum class of point guard. The difference with Collison is just how efficient he is-- but his style of play may involve too much isolation for Pistons fans. It's not clear whether or not Dallas will rush to match an offer for Collison, given that he's been in and out of the starting lineup this season. If Detroit wrote him an offer, consider him to be the best point guard the Pistons have had in many years... just not that much better than what it already does have.
Verdict: He's worth a flyer for below the MLE from the Pistons, but expect him to fetch more elsewhere.
Jose Calderon (unrestricted free agent): Calderon is the purest of point guards available this summer, perhaps even moreso than Chris Paul. The difference is that Calderon will be 32 next season, and he can't be relied on for much more as he ages. The thing is, a skill like this tends to age very well (just look at Steve Nash), and it might be fair to expect that Calderon won't drop off much in the next two to three seasons. Don't expect much from him defensively, especially at age 35, but expect the passing and three-point shooting to still be above average at his position.
Verdict: He's worth a full mid-level contract from Detroit for three years, preferably front-loaded. He probably won't see that kind of money elsewhere, but he may opt for a chance to win a ring instead. A $7M/$6M/$5M deal totaling $18M might bring him to Detroit if he wants more than $3M from the Heat.
Jarrett Jack (unrestricted free agent): Jack is one of the league's most underrated point guards, and his journeyman status will begin again this summer. He'll be 30 next season, and you can expect him to continue running pick-and-rolls very well for several more years while not doing much slashing. Think of Jack like a poor man's Sam Cassell, doing his work with a mid-range jumper and a pick-and-roll pass.
Verdict: A below mid-level deal might bring Jack to Detroit, but he may actually like to play for a winning team for once. He's likely to earn $4M or $5M a year for the next two or three years, and if he's not hunting for a ring, he'd be solid in Detroit.
Scott Machado (unrestricted free agent): Machado was released from Houston this week and is now an unrestricted free agent. Detroit shouldn't wait until this summer to roll the dice on this guy, even if they have to clear a roster spot to do so. The wise choice would be to move Daye or Bynum for a second round pick so that Detroit has a spot to add Machado, who could be a step up from Darren Collison if he's given a chance for a few years.
Verdict: He's cheap, he's young and he's promising. Don't wait until this summer.
None of these point guards should be looked at as long-term options to lead the team forward. With the exception of Machado, they are upgrades over Detroit's current point guard and their potentially short-term contracts could allow for development behind them in the rotation. There should be nothing wrong with signing Calderon or Jack for three seasons and drafting a point guard this season or next. They can contribute, they can challenge the young players and they can teach. Consider it a temporary solution to carry us to the next generation.
Brandan Wright (unrestricted free agent): Wright is my favorite free agent target this summer, and for several good reasons. He's played 73 games for the Mavericks at center and power forward, he's averaged 63% from the field throughout that stretch, he's developed a nice jump shot and blocks more than a shot per game in less than 17 minutes off the bench. He's one of the most productive big men in the league despite his limited burn, and the advanced stats are crazy about him. I'd love for Detroit to pass him a three year deal as the team's first big off the bench, playing an offensive role while holding his own on the other end at either position.
Verdict: He's coming off of a $1M deal with the Mavericks and doesn't have a solid relationship with Rick Carlisle. He's likely moving, and he might be had for the Amir Johnson / Chris Wilcox rate of years passed-- 3 years, $12M. If he's given a chance at real burn in 2013-14, he could be the free agent steal of the summer.
JJ Hickson (unrestricted free agent): After struggling in Cleveland and Sacramento, he has been absolutely explosive in Portland. He's averaging a double-double while shooting 55% from the field, and has the capacity to play both frontcourt positions. His contract-year breakout is troubling, though-- it's hard to expect it to continue, and he's due to get overpaid. If he struggles as he closes out the season and his stock falls back to earth, it may be worth putting in a late summer bid if the picture hasn't cleared for him. As it stands now, he'll probably end up earning too much to hold a backup role. I think they call that being Villanueva'd.
Verdict: It's a crazy long shot that he'll be available for a mid-level price this summer, but if the market cools on him and he plays his cards poorly with early suitors, he could be a late-summer pickup.
Andray Blatche (unrestricted free agent): After being one of Washington's many overpaid clowns during the Arenas years, it was very hard to like Andray Blatche. Now that he's on a different team earning the vet minimum, it's a lot easier to appreciate him. He's been much more efficient this season, he's filling up the box score with assists, steals and blocks, and he's scoring and rebounding like a big man should. This season could be an outlier, so any bet on Blatche should be limited. Yet if he can repeat for Detroit's bench what he's done for Brooklyn, he might be a solid third man in a frontcourt trio.
Verdict: I'm less enthused in Blatche than I am in Wright, but if the price is reasonable he could be a good scoring replacement once Villanueva leaves while doing a lot more at both frontcourt positions.
Tiago Splitter (unrestricted free agent): San Antonio doesn't let talent walk away for nothing, and they also aren't in the habit of overpaying young prospects. It's tough to say what the do with Splitter, but don't be surprised if they reach into their pocket books and match any seven figure offer sheet. On paper, Splitter looks like a starter on most teams and a sixth man on others. If he were to be brought in as the latter in Detroit, he'd do what Brandan Wright could do above. Score at a crazy efficiency level, rebound well, defend well and fill up the box score. It feels like wishful thinking to consider him though, as San Antonio has spent a lot of time developing him and won't want to just give him away (especially as Tim Duncan approaches retirement).
Verdict: It's a long-shot, but someone to keep an eye on for an offer-sheet this summer.
A lot can happen between now and this summer (unless, of course, you're Joe Dumars). If Detroit's needs stay the same by the time they enter the free agent market, a point guard and a big man should be on their radar. The names listed here may not be exciting, but fans shouldn't expect this summer to be a time of dramatic change. It's a relatively weak free agent class and a weak draft, so it's a good time to make safe bets on promising players. Up front, Detroit can add an impact player behind Drummond and Monroe to complete its frontcourt-- much like the Okur's and McDyess's of the past. At point guard, Detroit may need to look for a short-term upgrade while the team waits for something better to become available. Fortunately, the short-term options are abundant and productive if Detroit doesn't mind reaching for an older player.
Ideally, a pair of acquisitions for players like Wright and Calderon/Jack could help the team approach the playoffs in 2014 while leaving some maneuvering room under the salary cap. These may not be the sexiest options on paper, but they fill the team's precise needs while maintaining roster solvency.