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Should the Pistons “Josh Smith” Jon Leuer?

Waiving-and-stretching the expiring big man could make Detroit’s offseason ride smoother

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux had a list of possible waive-and-stretch candidates for teams prior to 2019 free agency. Jon Leuer, much-maligned Pistons big man, was present on the list, which got me considering the possibility.

According to Leroux, waiving-and-stretching Leuer would free up $6,338,695 for the Pistons this offseason. This, combined with renouncing the rights to the expiring contracts of Ish Smith, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, and Zaza Pachulia, and not exercising Glenn Robinson III’s team option, would enable Detroit to get under the salary cap. But that comes at a cost Pistons fans are familiar with: $3.1 million of dead money on the salary cap until the 2022 offseason.

Here’s what that looks like visually:

Is it worth it for the Pistons to waive-and-stretch Jon Leuer?

It depends.

Why you waive-and-stretch Leuer:

The biggest reason you would want to do this, as Leroux correctly surmises, is to facilitate retaining Ish Smith AND full use of the Mid-Level Exception (MLE). The Pistons have full Bird Rights on Smith, so they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him. However, signing Ish to the same contract he had before ($6 million), using the full MLE (~$9.2 million) on one (or more) players, and signing the two draft selections (picks 15 and 45) to their rookie deals puts the Pistons over the projected luxury tax of $132 million - and that’s before the Pistons use the Bi-Annual Exception (BAE) or sign any veteran’s minimum deals.

Waiving-and-stretching Leuer changes that equation. The $6,338,695 in cap savings for 2019 essentially pays for Ish Smith, which enables the Pistons to use the MLE and BAE without reaching the luxury tax:

(Ignore the positional designations for the rookies - I’m PRETTY sure the Pistons will not use their first-round pick on a center. I hope.)

(Also, it’s almost impressive that the Pistons could have $8+ million of dead money on the cap and still evade the luxury tax after using all their exceptions.)

Why you don’t waive-and-stretch Leuer:

The biggest reason you wouldn’t do this is if you think you can turn Jon Leuer’s $9.5 million expiring into something useful long-term to the Pistons any time before the 2020 trade deadline. More useful than whoever you sign to the BAE, at least. The Pistons remain low on future second-round picks; could you extract one or more seconds and some “bad” money from a team trying to duck under the luxury tax at the trade deadline (think the Markieff Morris trade, on a slightly larger scale)? You can’t move Leuer’s money at all if he’s waived.

Another reason to not do this would be to avoid the three years of dead money on the cap. Pistons fans know all too well the limitations even a relatively tiny amount of dead money can place on a team. Leuer’s dead money would be less than that of Josh Smith’s, but the thought of the Detroit Pistons paying Jon Leuer from July of 2016 to July of 2022 does make me blanch.

Lastly, you’d still need to replace Jon Leuer’s roster spot after waiving him. It’d probably be another minimum guy who would rarely see play, but you’d still have to pay both Leuer and his “replacement” simultaneously for three seasons.

Take your medicine

Ultimately, were I part of the Pistons’ front office, I would be against waive-and-stretching Leuer. Not strongly against it, but against it.

Use of the BAE this season would be nice, but Leuer’s dead money for the next three years is about as much as ... the BAE. With a chance to implement dramatic changes to the roster in 2020-21, the Pistons need to leverage this season’s expiring contracts into value, not compound the dead cap damage that’s already been done.