The Pistons currently have 17 players signed for next season.* Since Stan Van Gundy stayed true to his word to bring back Joel Anthony, then some tweaking will need to occur, most likely in the form of acquire-less-than-you-give trades, salary dumps, or straight-up cuts. There's a group of guys on the bubble for who may be sweating about their futures in Motown, so let's see how the roster could be trimmed.
*Final roster cuts down to 15 don't need to be made until late-October (the Pistons had 20 guys through preseason last year).
As we can see here, the Pistons are in a fairly healthy position flexibility-wise. The highest paid player, Brandon Jennings, is an expiring contract, while the next highest, Ersan Ilyasova, only has a minimal guarantee after the end of this season, meaning that, should we not retain Jennings or Ilyasova past this season, that's roughly $15 million coming off the books.
Lets now examine the various ways the roster could be trimmed before the start of the season.
The Pistons have made good use of the stretch provision recently, with both Josh Smith and Aaron Gray counting against the salary cap despite no longer playing for the team.
With the payroll for next season as illustrated above, Quincy Miller is the only player with any sort of un-guaranteed amount on his deal (in this case, fully un-guaranteed). Therefore, Miller could simply be waived and nothing would happen to the salary cap in that we would no longer be obliged to reimburse Miller for the rest of his owed money, and his salary would simply be wiped from the books.
However, to make room for Joel Anthony, we need to remove two players from the payroll. I doubt Miller will be cut regardless of his contract's nature, because he's still young and has worked really hard to bulk up (coming in at a burlier 234 pounds) in order to play power forward in Van Gundy's system. Therefore, let's see the most likely candidates to be cut.
Quincy Miller: I've stated above why he's the easiest to cut, no need to elaborate here.
Danny Granger: By all accounts and reports, Granger will almost certainly be waived to clear a roster spot. Granger has played 76 total regular season games since 2012-13, due to recurring knee injuries, namely patellar tendinitis. He is a shell of the player who once averaged 25.8 points per game and was an All-Star in 2009, and would likely provide what Caron Butler did last season, but with less appearances. I'd still like to see him on the team because I've always been fond of him as a player, and the team could be lacking in true veteran grit, but it would be silly to sacrifice promising young pieces to keep Granger around.
Reggie Bullock: Speaking of sacrificing young pieces, Reggie Bullock may not find himself in the red, blue and white come opening night. Bullock has played in 79 regular season games since being drafted in 2013, and has shown potential as a decent shooter and defender at 6-foot-7. He's still young at 24 years old, and hasn't been given much of a chance being buried on the bench with the Clippers before only playing 11 games for Phoenix. I think Stan will give Bullock training camp to show something, but unless the next man on the list is sacrificed, I sadly see him as the next likely to make way.
Cartier Martin: Martin was terrible last year. Sure, he didn't get many opportunities, only appearing in 23 games and averaging 8.6 minutes, but he was just woeful. In his 23 games, he shot 28% from the field, 18% from three, and did not attempt a single free throw. For a career 37% distance shooter, Martin couldn't hit the side of a barn with a beachball. Rather strangely, a player option was built into the contract he signed in the summer of 2014, and of course he exercised it knowing his market would be smaller than Linda Hunt. His contract is small and easy to swallow, but it could have been so much easier if there was no option at all, or at least a team option. Van Gundy obviously predicted better than this.
Darrun Hilliard: These next two guys are unlikely, but not totally impossible. Hilliard (and Johnson for that matter) are both still unsigned draft picks. Johnson will definitely get his millions eventually from the team, but the road will be tougher for Hilliard. As he technically isn't on the roster yet, he wouldn't have to be waived, but rather not signed at all. My understanding is that his rights could then either be renounced and he would become an unrestricted free agent, or his rights retained and he could then become a stash-type player overseas. I haven't included a number for Hilliard's contract because there's not a uniform scale for second-rounders like first-rounders, but it will be in the neighborhood of Dinwiddie's contract. But still, I think there's a less than one percent chance he's not signed or cut outright.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Dinwiddie still offers plenty of mystery and intrigue as a 6-foot-6 point guard with fluid, if not explosive, athleticism and elite passing ability. Van Gundy likely won't make any roster decisions on his draft picks based on Summer League, especially not Dinwiddie, his first Pistons pick, and someone who he's seen practice and play for a year now. Still, if Dinwiddie performs like hot garbage like he for much of the Summer League, then it may give Van Gundy food for thought. Dinwiddie looked rushed, was pressing, and eventually frustrated against Summer League competition, showing some immaturity and emphasizing the importance of Brandon Jennings (or, if he's traded, whoever may come in) as the backup. Because Dinwiddie is clearly not ready to be the primary backup just yet. He improved as the Summer League progressed, though it'd be hard not to, and, like Hilliard, chances are remote that he's waived.
After striking out on his top targets in free agency, Van Gundy has shown a willingness to make trades. While his free agency decisions have been questionable (Martin w/ player option, Meeks/Baynes at $6M per, although I like Baynes), his body of work through trades has been quite exemplary. In the year and change that he's been at the head of the S.S. Shitty Team, he has transformed D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler into Reggie Jackson, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome into Tayshaun Prince (perhaps his only meh trade), Tony Mitchell into Anthony Tolliver, Caron Butler and Shawne Williams into Ersan Ilyasova, and a second round pick who just graduated middle school into Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock.
The reason the trade with Phoenix was able to work was because of the cap space we had, and we could simply absorb the contracts into the space without having to give up anything in return. According to Bobby Marks, these are the teams with cap space left.
Teams w/ Space: DEN (6.5), DET (3.8), IND (13.1), LAL (5.1), MIL (3.7), ORL (17.4), PHI (15.7), PHX (6.9), POR (24.3), SAC (7.7), UTH (9.4)— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 5, 2015
Obviously, the ideal trade partners are the ones with more room left, as you can dump more salary on them. The only guys I could see being part of a salary dump are Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks and Marcus Morris, and here's why.
Brandon Jennings is fun, he's the most fun player I've ever watched because he not only is flashy, but he has the $WAG to go along with it. He's my favorite active player in the NBA (closely followed by Matthew Dellavedova), and I was ecstatic when he joined Detroit. That being said, since SVG is serious about anointing Reggie Jackson as the PGOTF, then it may make sense to part ways with Brandon unless he's super-duper willing to be a Jamal Crawford-type reserve, which I think he could be for this team. However, there will be questions on his Achilles up until he plays again, which looks like it might be preseason if his rehab is progressing as well as he reports. If SVG can unload his contract onto a willing taker who takes a gamble on Jennings, then he may explore that option. The only obvious gripe is that Jennings' market is zero at the moment, and, if he proves himself, is a much more valuable asset than a salary dump (Terrence Jones perhaps?). Roy Hibbert got salary-dumped today by Indiana. I think Brandon Jennings is better than Roy Hibbert.
Jodie Meeks, after recovering from his back injury suffered in the preseason last year, had a so-so year for the Pistons. He still averaged over 11 points a game as the 6th man, but his shooting regressed horribly from his breakout season in L.A. the year before. He only shot 42% from the field, down from 46%, and 35% from 3, down from 40%. Meeks is still an attractive option for Van Gundy because history would suggest that last season was an aberration for him, and he still carries the ability to light it up in a hurry (see Pistons vs. Magic, Dec. 2014). However, Meeks is paid like a starter (under the old cap anyway), and his $6M salary could be better used elsewhere, but then the SG depth would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Darrun Hilliard...yikes.
If Marcus Morris proves to be a malcontent in the locker room because he doesn't have his
security blanket brother with him, then he could also be entertained in salary dump situations. Morris is a good shooter and averaged over 10 points per game for Phoenix last season. He also offers positional versatility, being able to play both small forward and power forward, and has good size at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds. However, he is a wobbly free throw shooter, shooting it at a 67% clip for his career, and good foul shooting is something that the Pistons need, as every fan knows after years of bricks from the line. Morris is young, entering his prime at 25 years old (he's just under a month older than Brandon Jennings), and could be seen as a good consolidation piece for a decent team, like Indiana, Orlando or Portland.
If you read through these salary dump scenarios and vomited a little inside, you're not alone. I really dislike the idea of giving players away for free (getting them, sure!) all in the name of cap space and roster spots, especially considering that any free agent worthy of this measure being applied to make room for them is off the board (unless Gerald Green wants to stop by). But, I'm trying to cover all bases here, and put myself into the fortress that is Stan Van Gundy's mind.
Adonis Thomas, star of the Grand Rapids Drive last season, looked really good in the SL opener, scoring 17 points, leading the team. He has been assured of a spot at training camp, where he is a very real chance of competing for a roster spot, according to MLive.com's David Mayo. If he does earn the 15th roster spot, then more cutting down will be needed, but my head hurts now, and I don't want to bore you any longer than absolutely necessary.
So there are the possible options for cutting down this roster. How would you go about it? Are there any other free agents you'd like to sign that would require further wizardry? Have your say below.
Note: Reggie Jackson agreed to an $80 million contract which will pay him $16 million a year for 5 years. However, he will be signed last to maintain cap flexibility as the Pistons can go over the cap with his bird rights. Therefore, for the time being, his cap hold of $4.4 million will still be on the books until all other deals are done.