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Evaluating where things stand with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the Pistons

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Are Pistons keeping KCP? Who is a threat to sign him? What limitations are the Pistons working under?

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

For more than a year there has been a passionate debate about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope divided into two camps — those who wanted to #payKCP and those who wanted to move on from the shooting guard.

The #payKCP contingent argued that Caldwell-Pope was a versatile perimeter defender with a steadily growing offensive game who brought it every single night. Perhaps most importantly, If the Pistons let him walk they didn’t have the financial ability to replace him. You don’t let a quality young player like that walk, and you do what you need to do to keep him.

The anti #payKCP crowd saw a player with low efficiency and minimal upside who would put the Pistons in salary cap hell with a $24 million per year deal. He can’t create for himself or others, doesn’t get to the line much and his 3-point shot is still not strong enough to rely on.

Running out of suitors

While that debate rages on, it appears that this free agency period is not playing out like anyone anticipated, as those max contract offers don’t appear to be coming.

The Sacramento Kings have invested in George Hill and Zach Randolph. The Philadelphia 76ers opted for JJ Redick. The Phoenix Suns have fully committed to a youth movement and as a salary dumping ground. The Bulls are in rebuild mode after trading Jimmy Butler. The Brooklyn Nets look committed to a Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell backcourt. The Atlanta Hawks could strike, but they have their own restricted free agent in Tim Hardaway Jr.

It appears the Pistons might not be simply forced to match whatever offer Caldwell-Pope gets from another team, and instead they might be forced to negotiate directly with KCP and hope he signs on a long-term contract.

The hard cap and other CBA fun

Who could have seen that coming? Perhaps Stan Van Gundy.

The Pistons head of basketball operations surprised many by signing Langston Galloway to a three-year $21 million deal using the full mid-level exception. By using the full MLE, the Pistons hard-capped themselves. This is when we enter NBA finance purgatory.

The salary cap is $99,093,000 million. The luxury tax kicks in at $119,266,000 and the apron hits at $125,266,000. The Pistons already stand at $105 million in contracts before accounting for Caldwell-Pope.

By signing Galloway using the full MLE, the Pistons essentially committed to not passing the $125,266,000 threshold. Subtract a couple million for roster spots with minimum contract guys and the Pistons have about $17 million to offer KCP in year one. That is obviously much less than the $24 million KCP could be paid if offered a max deal.

Pistons have three options

That leaves three options:

1. SVG and his staff examined the market and realized a big contract offer wasn’t coming for KCP and pulled the trigger on offering the Galloway deal.

2. The Pistons are willing to let KCP walk away if offered a contract about $17 million per year.

3. The Pistons have already readied a trade that would allow them to move salary to a team with cap space and open up additional room to offer KCP a larger contract.

If you’re a Pistons fan then you’re hoping the answer is option one. Even people ultimately skeptical of Caldwell-Pope’s long-term impact would be much more willing to stomach a deal that pays him $16 million per season as opposed to $23 million per season.

If you’re a hardcore non-believer then perhaps you’re simply ready to let KCP walk. That would leave Galloway as the likely starting shooting guard with Luke Kennard off the bench and a chance that Reggie Bullock (an RFA just like KCP) could return.

The least palatable option is No. 3. because when you’re a team coming off the kind of awful season Detroit just experienced the idea of lopping off talent and attaching a sweetener like a future pick is just not the correct path.

If the Pistons were willing to move a contract you’d have to imagine prime candidates are Jon Leuer (attaching a first), Ish Smith to a point-guard needy team, Marcus Morris (cheap deal would be attractive to several clubs).

What would KCP do?

However, based on recent experience one has to wonder what KCP would actually do if faced with signing a contract much less than he anticipated. Would he take the guaranteed $70 million offer or would he sign his qualifying offer and try again as an unrestricted free agent again next season?

Pistons fans experienced this same drama recently with Greg Monroe who ultimately signed his QO and walked away, getting a max contract offer from the Milwaukee Bucks.

The difference between Monroe and KCP’s situations, though, is the financial environment they’re both working in. The salary cap explosion is over and the cap number is trending downard. Because of spending in recent years even fewer teams are likely to have significant cap space.

If KCP doesn’t like the offer he sees this year, he might see an even worse deal next year.

Sign and trade a possibility?

Speaking of Monroe, and with how crazy this NBA offseason has been, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the slim possibility of a sign-and-trade. Monroe and his agent worked diligently to find a sign-and-trade that worked for Detroit so he wouldn’t need to sign his qualifying offer but Detroit decided they’d rather have cap space.

Cap space is not an option for Detroit with KCP. Miami could have tons of cap space but already has money tied up in shooting guards. That either means they’re not interested in Caldwell-Pope or would be willing to move one to bring KCP in. The Hawks have tons of cap space. If they do like KCP would they work a trade bringing Tim Hardaway Jr. to Detroit? Would Detroit even be interested? Perhaps another team comes completely out of left field. I wouldn’t put anything past the 2017 NBA offseason.