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Change of plans? New salary cap projection squeezes Pistons

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The Pistons will have even less room to maneuver this offseason.

Detroit Pistons v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I know it’s NBA Draft day, and everyone’s excited about who the Detroit Pistons might acquire at 12, or what trades are going to happen, but some big news came out from MassLive.com’s Jay King early this morning:

If you recall, the previous projections for the salary cap were between $101 and $102 million. This gives the Pistons (and any other teams hovering around the salary cap) even less room to add salary in free agency this off-season. The Freep’s Vincent Ellis, though, tweeted that his source said this doesn’t change the team’s plans ... much.

The sense I’ve always gotten from listening to Stan Van Gundy and the front office was that they would give the roster as currently constructed (Kentavious Caldwell Pope’s forthcoming extension counted) at least until the 2017-18 trade deadline before they figured out if they were going to be a luxury tax team or not. This decision making offers the most flexibility - If the team looks better than they did last year (or, more optimistically, better than they did in the second half of the 2015-16 season) then there’s less of an issue paying the luxury tax. If the team is where they were last year, or worse, you can trade a large contract at the trade deadline to escape the luxury tax, which is enforced at the end of the season, not the beginning.

The news about the salary cap decrease doesn’t change that thought process (which is sound) much. However, it does increase the likelihood that Darrun Hilliard’s fully non-guaranteed (if waived by July 1) contract is, in fact, waived, or that Michael Gbinije’s partially guaranteed (for $500,000, if waived by July 15) contract is waived. Those two players do not factor into the Pistons’ future enough to justify keeping them on the books if they look to shed salary in the near future.

As for the draft, we all know the Pistons’ aren’t opposed to using the No. 12 pick to acquire a veteran who will help the team win now:

The decrease in the salary cap increases the possibility that the Pistons would have to add some salary to that No. 12 pick to stave off the additional salary. According to the new CBA, the No. 12 pick is slotted to make a little under $2.3 million in 2017-18:

NBA 2017 rookie scale
NBA 2017 rookie scale contracts

Packaging one of the aforementioned non-guaranteed deals with the No. 12 pick in a trade for a veteran doesn’t save the Pistons that much money going forward. However, adding a larger salary in a trade - say, Jon Leuer’s $10.5 million salary for 2017-18 - could provide the Pistons both with a superior talent and more flexible spending ability. We know some teams *coughLAKERScough* are sniffing around the lower lottery looking for Luke Kennard or a Zach Collins - whether Leuer passes the Nene Test and can help facilitate a trade like that is a judgement front offices will have to make for themselves.

After the draft is free agency - and this news shouldn’t alter the Pistons’ free agency plans any. The Pistons already were looking at only being able to utilize an exception (either the full Mid-Level Exception or the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception) to acquire any players of consequence, and the cap going down only further reinforces that notion. Excluding the aforementioned exceptions, you can only go above the salary cap to re-sign your own players, and the Pistons - counting KCP’s cap hold - are already above the salary cap.

Barring any blindside trades (which, to be fair, have been a specialty of the Stan Van Gundy - Jeff Bower regime), the Pistons are going to take someone at No. 12 tonight, and that’ll pretty much be the roster until the trade deadline in February. I know player movement is what fans wants to see and hear about, but the Pistons’ roster is well and truly ossified. The salary cap decline is a squeeze, but you have to squeeze bones pretty hard before they break.