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2014 NBA Draft rumors: should the Pistons be shopping for a first-round pick?

In a draft where picks might be fore sale, should the Pistons be in the market?

Gregory Shamus

With the NBA Draft just days away, the Pistons find themselves without the reward granted by the NBA to teams that are terrible season after season, namely, a high NBA draft pick.

As the Draft gets closer, the rumor mill churns harder and louder. Some teams, like the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers, are in a rare but enviable position of having more draft picks than a team really needs in a single offseason and thus possess a commodity with potentially significant value. In a wild scenario where the Miami Heat make a run at Carmelo Anthony, even its first-round pick might be up for grabs if the Heat need to clear extra salary commitments.

On the other end of the spectrum, cap-strapped teams like the New York Knicks could be buyers before draft night. Others, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, could be seeking to move up in a desperate attempt to improve before Kobe Bryant retires. The Houston Rockets covet Melo, but they need to clear space to make a play.

And ‘round and ‘round the mill we go.

For a bad team that finds itself without a first-round selection in a draft lauded as one of the deepest in years, the current situation may present an opportunity.

If draft pick is for sale, should the Pistons be buying?

The Pistons' roster has glaring holes, the team recently sent its lottery pick to the Charlotte Hornets, first-round picks are more cost-effective than free agents (generally speaking), and this draft could present very solid talent all the way through the first and second rounds.

But, while all of that is true, the answer isn't a simple "yes" or "no."

Acquiring young talent on rookie-scale contracts through the draft is undeniably one of the most cost-effective ways to improve an NBA roster. However, the Pistons' current roster and salary cap profile make this tricky.

Under the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), teams must comply with a myriad of rules and regulations. Because of sets of rules related to roster size, free agency, and the salary cap, there are significant opportunity costs for Stan Van Gundy and his team to consider.

Roster size:

The CBA sets a minimum and maximum number of players an NBA team may have on its roster. Generally speaking, teams must have at least twelve but not more than fifteen players on the roster during the season and no more than twenty during the offseason.

Right now, the Pistons have the following nine players under contract, to the tune of just under $38 million total:

Guaranteed contracts and amounts

Josh Smith


Brandon Jennings


Jonas Jerebko


Will Bynum


Kentavious Caldwell-Pope


Andre Drummond


Luigi Datome


Kyle Singler


Tony Mitchell


Additionally, the Pistons have one restricted free agent, Greg Monroe, and three players on unguaranteed contracts/team options:

Pending contracts and amounts

Greg Monroe (cap hold)


Chauncey Billups (team option)


Josh Harrellson (unguaranteed or team option)


Peyton Siva (unguaranteed)


The Pistons also currently have a second-round pick in the 2014 draft.

Acquiring a first-round pick would bring the guaranteed roster to ten (assuming the pick is signed), retaining Greg Monroe to eleven, signing the 2014 second-round pick and retaining Harrellson and Siva to fourteen, and picking up Billups' option to fifteen.

"Well, that makes fifteen players - perfect!" You might say.

Well maybe. But if SVG's plan for improvement includes free agency, maybe not.

Free agency and the salary cap:

The 2014-2015 NBA salary cap is projected to grow to approximately $62 million. Accounting for the nine guaranteed contracts and Greg Monroe's cap hold, the Pistons have roughly $48 million committed under the salary cap. Throw in Billups (because he hasn't been renounced), Siva, and Harrellson, and that number gets to roughly $52.4 million. That puts the Pistons at the minimum roster size of twelve, and thus no cap holds for empty spots, and it leaves roughly $10 million for the Pistons to spend in free agency with three available roster spots.

Stan Van Gundy and company could do any number of creative things to grow that $10 million slightly. For example, declining the option on Billups' contract would add approximately $1.5 million (assuming the roster drops below the minimum resulting in a cap hold), but the important point here is how acquiring a first-round pick will impact the team's space under the cap.

Chronologically, the draft happens before free agency begins, and first-round draft picks come with a cap hold in tow, meaning that as soon as the player is drafted, the team must account for the player and his salary on the books - which means one less roster spot for and less money to attract free agents. This summer, the 15th pick's cap hold will "cost" roughly $1.5 million, and the 30th's about $900,000.

Considerations and Implications for the Pistons:

So, should the Pistons be buyers in the draft pick market? The answer is complicated, and there are opportunity costs to consider all around. Here are the main considerations and implications.

Adding a first-round draft selection provides a young, potentially rotation-caliber, and likely much cheaper option free agency. Building through the draft is the most cost-effective way to build a roster, and the Pistons have plenty of roster building to do.

Additionally, this draft is widely regarded as having rotation-caliber talent deep into the second round; losing this year's lottery pick could be ameliorated by acquiring a pick later in the first round.

However, adding another guaranteed contract adds an additional player to the roster, thus bringing it closer to the maximum, and adds guaranteed money that eats into the Pistons' available cap space. For example, adding a player via the fifteenth pick would add roughly $1.5 million in salary, and thus remove $1.5 million from the available cap space in free agency.

Furthermore, the Pistons already have two developing players about whom they must make decisions in Josh Harrelson and Peyton Siva, and assuming they keep their second rounder this year makes three. Adding another via a first-round pick would bring that pool of players to four, and because first rounders are guaranteed, will force the Pistons into a decision about retaining Harrellson and/or Siva and/or this year's second round pick prior to the start of the season because of the rules around maximum roster size.

Does this summer give SVG and team enough time to evaluate all that talent sufficiently before the season starts? Is it worth parting with Siva and/or Harrellson and/or this year's second rounder to add an unproven late first rounder? It very well could be, but middle-to-late first rounders are rarely a sure thing.

Perhaps most importantly, the Pistons have money to spend in free agency and a competent management team making personnel decisions. Unlike draft picks, this year's crop of free agents contains several proven NBA players who fit the team's needs are looking for work. Assuming $10-$12 million in cap space, the Pistons could add two to three rotation-caliber players via free agency. Adding a first-round pick takes up a roster spot and eats into the available cap space, thus limiting free agency options.

And of course, every scenario in which a Pistons could acquire a pick is unique and comes with its own set of complications (which I invite in the comments!).

Twelve hundred words later, and the best answer I have is, "It depends." What's yours?