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Did the Pistons Overpay Their New Players?

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Here's a by-the-numbers look at current Pistons salaries that includes a glimpse at the 2004 champs for comparison.

Slow down and look at some numbers.
Slow down and look at some numbers.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Quick! Who are the top five highest paid players on the Pistons right now?

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Andre Drummond ($22.1 million), Tobias Harris ($17.2 million), and Reggie Jackson ($14.9 million) should not surprise you, but the next two on the list, newly signed Jon Leuer ($10.9 million) and Boban Marjanovic ($7 million), very well might. The next two players on the list, Aron Baynes ($6.5 million) and Ish Smith ($6 million) aren't starters either, which has led many around the league and some on this very site to wonder: Why are these guys getting paid so much?

The answer is: It's all relative. It can be hard wrapping your head around the meaning of these numbers because of how much the league has changed in the last ten years. When the Pistons won the championship in 2004, their opening day salary breakdown looked like this:

Richard Hamilton $6,500,000
Bob Sura $6,266,666
Ben Wallace $5,500,000
Chauncey Billups $5,000,600
Corliss Williamson $5,000,000
Zeljko Rebraca $4,200,000
Elden Campbell $4,000,000
Chucky Atkins $3,900,000
Darko Milicic $3,595,800
Lindsey Hunter $3,000,000
Hubert Davis $2,956,250
Mehmet Okur $1,100,000
Tayshaun Prince $971,160
Darvin Ham $813,679 [minimum, counts $688,679]
Tremaine Fowlkes $638,679 [minimum]
Detroit Pistons Total: $53,317,832

*Midseason, Detroit traded Sura, Rebraca, Atkins and Hunter, for Rasheed Wallace ($17 million) and Mike James ($638 thousand). Hunter was waived by the Celtics and re-signed with the Pistons soon after. Hubert Davis was waived in January.

When you look at those numbers compared to the current team, there's no way that the current players should be making this much more than those Goin' to Work Pistons:

Andre Drummond $22,116,750
Tobias Harris $17,200,000
Reggie Jackson $14,956,522
Jon Leuer $9,836,066
Boban Marjanovic $7,000,000
Aron Baynes $6,500,000
Ishmael Smith $6,000,000
Marcus Morris $4,625,000
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $3,678,319
Stanley Johnson $2,969,880
Reggie Bullock $2,255,644
Henry Ellenson $1,704,120
Lorenzo Brown $1,015,696
Ray McCallum $980,431
Darrun Hilliard $874,636
Michael Gbinije $650,000
Josh Smith $5,400,000
Aaron Gray $452,049

Shoot, Josh Smith is getting paid more not to play for the team than Chauncey Billups was paid as the Finals MVP! Andre Drummond is making more than than the entire starting lineup did combined!

The problem with this way of thinking is that you can't compare the numbers to get a good perspective on how much these guys are worth. You have to compare the salaries of the players to the total amount of money that is available:

Total Salary Cap $43,840,000 % of salary cap Total Salary Cap $94,143,000.00 % of salary cap
Richard Hamilton $6,500,000 14.83% Andre Drummond $22,116,750 23.49%
Bob Sura $6,266,666 14.29% Tobias Harris $17,200,000 18.47%
Ben Wallace $5,500,000 12.55% Reggie Jackson $14,956,522 15.89%
Chauncey Billups $5,000,600 11.41% Jon Leuer $9,836,066 10.45%
Corliss Williamson $5,000,000 11.41% Boban Marjanovic $7,000,000 7.44%
Zeljko Rebraca $4,200,000 9.58% Aron Baynes $6,500,000 6.90%
Elden Campbell $4,000,000 9.12% Ishmael Smith $6,000,000 6.37%
Chucky Atkins $3,900,000 8.90% Marcus Morris $4,625,000 4.91%
Darko Milicic $3,595,800 8.20% Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $3,678,319 3.91%
Lindsey Hunter $3,000,000 6.84% Stanley Johnson $2,969,880 3.15%
Hubert Davis $2,956,250 6.74% Reggie Bullock $2,255,644 2.40%
Mehmet Okur $1,100,000 2.51% Henry Ellenson $1,704,120 1.81%
Tayshaun Prince $971,160 2.22% Lorenzo Brown $1,015,696 1.08%
Darvin Ham $813,679 1.86% Ray McCallum $980,431 1.04%
Tremaine Fowlkes $638,679 1.46% Darrun Hilliard $874,636 0.93%
Rasheed Wallace $17,000,000 38.78% Michael Gbinije $650,000 0.69%
Mike James $638,678 1.46% Josh Smith $5,400,000 5.74%
Aaron Gray $452,049 0.48%
Total (before trade) $53,317,832 121.62% Total $108,215,113 114.95%

*There are discrepancies about the yearly breakdown for Boban and Ish's contracts depending on where you look on the internet, so I went with what you see. I used this for the historic salaries and this and this for the current numbers. Percentages are partially from spotrac.com and partially my own math.

There are many takeaways from this comparison:

-The championship team started the season with five players making more than 10% of the cap, compared to just four on this year's team. There were also nine players making at least 8%, compared to just five on this year's team.

-The salaries were more evenly distributed on the championship team, while this year's team has a greater range of differences.

-The championship team really hit on some cheap late picks, finding starters that were making less than 3% of the cap. This year's team is also relying on low paid players to start with Marcus (5%) and KCP (4%).

-Marcus Morris is getting paid less this year than Bob Sura did twelve years ago, and less than Josh Smith is being paid to stay away from this team.

-For those that worry about Andre's big cap hit, look at Rasheed! 39% of the cap today would come out to $36 million this year and $42 million next year. The next year Rasheed signed a contract that started at $9.7 million and grew to $13.9 million, which was 22%-24% of the cap in those years.

We can also take away the names of the players, and just look at the positions they play:

2003-2004 2016-2017
Starting PG 11.41% 15.89%
Starting SG 14.83% 3.91%
Starting SF 2.22% 4.91%
Starting PF 2.51% 18.47%
Starting C 12.55% 23.49%
2nd String PG 6.84% 6.37%
2nd String SG 14.29% 2.40%
2nd String SF 11.41% 3.15%
2nd String PF 9.12% 10.45%
2nd String C 9.58% 6.90%
3rd String PG 8.90% 1.04%
3rd String SG 1.46% 0.69%
3rd String SF 1.86% 0.93%
3rd String PF - 1.81%
3rd String C 8.20% 7.44%

*For the 2003-2004 team, I went by minutes played. This was tricky because of injuries, and both Atkins and Hunter played a similar about of time. Nevertheless, it's a snapshot.

Here are the totals:

2003-2004 2016-2017
Starting Backcourt 26.24% 19.80%
Starting Frontcout 17.28% 46.87%
Backup Backcourt 31.49% 10.50%
Backup Frontcourt 40.17% 30.68%
Backcourt 57.73% 30.30%
Frontcourt 57.45% 77.55%
Starters 43.52% 66.67%
Backups 71.66% 41.18%
Dead Money 6.22%

More takeaways:

-Dumars spent more resources on his backcourt than SVG. A big part of that is the fact that all the shooting guards on the Pistons are still on their rookie contracts, while Dumars had two starters in the backcourt on their veteran contracts.

-Dumars had starters on some great deals, and a lot of money in his bench. SVG has built the other way, starting with his Top 5 and then fleshing out the bench from there with guys on good deals.

-Josh Smith strikes again.

The final step is consider the deal the Pistons made this summer by comparing them to the rest of the deals made:

PG Salary Cap % SG Salary Cap %
Mike Conley 26,540,000 28.19% DeMar DeRozan 26,540,100 28.19%
Rajon Rondo 14,000,000 14.87% Dwyane Wade 23,227,384 24.67%
Jordan Clarckson 12,500,000 13.28% Bradley Beal 22,116,750 23.49%
Jeremy Lin 11,483,254 12.20% Allen Crabbe 18,500,000 19.65%
Austin Rivers 10,852,713 11.53% Evan Fournier 17,000,000 18.06%
Matthew Dellavedova 9,607,000 10.20% Evan Turner 16,393,443 17.41%
Deron Williams 9,000,000 9.56% Manu Ginobili 14,000,000 14.87%
Jerryd Bayless 8,612,440 9.15% Jamal Crawford 13,253,012 14.08%
D.J. Augustin 7,250,000 7.70% Arron Afflalo 12,500,000 13.28%
Ish Smith 6,000,000 6.37% Eric Gordon 12,385,364 13.16%
Brandon Jennings 5,000,000 5.31% Courtney Lee 11,242,000 11.94%
Greivis Vasquez 4,347,826 4.62% Joe Johnson 11,000,000 11.68%
Seth Curry 2,898,000 3.08% Gerald Henderson 9,000,000 9.56%
Randy Foye 2,500,000 2.66% Garrett Temple 8,000,000 8.50%
Isaiah Canaan 1,015,696 1.08% E'Twaun Moore 7,962,529 8.46%
Tyler Johnson 5,628,000 5.98%
Langston Galloway 5,200,000 5.52%
Leandro Barbosa 4,000,000 4.25%
Troy Daniels 3,332,940 3.54%
Dion Waiters 2,898,000 3.08%
Alan Anderson 1,315,448 1.40%
Marcus Thornton 1,315,448 1.40%

*Tyler Johnson's deal with the Heat was a "poison pill" deal, where his first two years are just under $6 million per year, and the last two are about $19 million per year. Allen Crabbe's RFA deal with the Nets was apparently not structured that way.

-For a backup guard, it looks like the Pistons are getting Ish Smith on a pretty good deal compared to the rest of the league. If he ends up being a 3rd string point guard playing 2nd string minutes, a la Steve Blake, maybe it's not as great of a deal.

-KCP is going to get PAID. Backups are making $18 million+. Extending him sooner rather than later will be a difference of millions with the cap jumping again.

SF Salary Cap % PF Salary Cap %
Kevin Durant 26,540,100 28.19% Dirk Nowitzki 25,000,000 26.56%
Chandler Parsons 22,116,750 23.49% Ryan Anderson 18,735,363 19.90%
Harrison Barnes 22,116,750 23.49% Pau Gasol 15,500,000 16.46%
Nicolas Batum 20,869,565 22.17% Jeff Green 15,000,000 15.93%
Luol Deng 18,000,000 19.12% Marvin Williams 12,250,000 13.01%
Kent Bazemore 15,730,338 16.71% Miles Plumlee 11,685,393 12.41%
Solomon Hill 11,241,218 11.94% Jon Leuer 10,991,957 11.68%
Jared Dudley 10,470,000 11.12% Mirza Teletovic 10,500,000 11.15%
Maurice Harkless 8,988,764 9.55% Meyers Leonard 9,213,483 9.79%
Lance Thomas 6,191,000 6.58% Trevor Booker 9,046,455 9.61%
Matt Barnes 6,125,000 6.51% Dwight Powell 8,314,607 8.83%
Wesley Johnson 5,628,000 6.98% Anthony Tolliver 8,000,000 8.50%
Richard Jefferson 2,500,000 2.66% Darrell Arthur 7,131,783 7.58%
Luc Mbah a Moute 2,203,000 2.34% Andrew Nicholson 6,088,993 6.47%
Quincy Acy 1,050,961 1.12% Luis Scola 5,500,000 5.84%
David West 1,551,659 1.65%
Brandon Bass 1,551,659 1.65%
Marreese Speights 1,403,611 1.49%

-Jon Leuer's deal seems to be right in line with what the league is paying for a backup big man. The guys making significantly more than him are largely starting, and the guys making less are projected to play less.

-Marreese Speights = Super Saver Deal of the Summer?

C Salary Cap %
Al Horford 26,540,100 28.19%
Dwight Howard 23,180,275 24.62%
Andre Drummond 22,116,750 23.49%
Hassan Whiteside 22,116,750 23.49%
Joakim Noah 17,000,000 18.06%
Bismack Biyombo 17,000,000 18.06%
Ian Mahinmi 15,944,154 16.94%
Timofey Mozgov 14,988,290 15.92%
Al Jefferson 9,569,378 10.16%
Cole Aldrich 7,643,979 8.12%
Festus Ezeli 7,400,000 7.86%
Boban Marjanovic 7,000,000 7.44%
Jared Sullinger 5,628,000 5.98%
Zaza Pachulia 2,898,000 3.08%
Nene 2,898,000 3.08%
David Lee 1,551,659 1.65%

-Andre Drummond is just a great deal for the Pistons. No one signed this summer is close to his age at center, unless you count Meyers Leonard. He is going to get at least two max-level deals during his prime. Boban was signed to a nice deal, but his salary slots better as a 2nd string player than 3rd. The nice thing is that when he likely takes that 2nd string role next year, his salary stays the same and only takes up 6.5% of the cap.

-Baynes will probably double his yearly salary by opting out next year as long as nothing catastrophic happens.

Conclusion

The numbers on the deals that new Pistons signed this summer seem pretty big: $22 million for a starter, $11 million, $7 million, and $6 million for mere backups. When you take a look at it by percentages of the cap though, the deals are much more reasonable: 23.5% for an all-star, 11.7%, 7.5%, and 6% for backups. The salaries signed are in line with what the league has done historically. They also match up with what the rest of the league is doing now, if not even a little bit of a value in some cases.

Three Things to Take Away

1. SVGI not AFI.

2. Marcus Morris should never ever be traded.

3. The ghosts of Josh Smith and Joe Dumars live on.