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A look at the Detroit Pistons salary cap situation

The Pistons will have more money than they need even with Blake Griffin on the roster

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Utah Jazz Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons have been broke for years. Ever since the cap explosion of 2016, the Pistons have basically been maxed out on cap space with only the trade market allowing them to make significant changes to the roster.

That was screamingly obvious to most Pistons fans the past two seasons when Detroit’s free agent hauls were the following:

2018: Glenn Robinson Jr (now gone), Jose Calderon (out of NBA), Zaza Pachulia (out of NBA).

2019: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tim Frazier.

As the Detroit Pistons look like they might finally jump into the deep end of a rebuild, with Andre Drummond trade chatter all over the NBA and with high-priced forward Blake Griffin out for the year following knee surgery, I thought it was a good time to take a good look at their books.

The short version is — they are not as bad as you think!

The slightly longer version is, even with Blake Griffin on the roster for the next two years, the Pistons will be able to maneuver through either a replenishment of players via trades and free agency or the kinds of moves you want to see in a rebuild — adding albatross contracts in exchange for young players and picks.

Now, let’s dive in a little deeper.

Coming off the Books

This is likely the last year fans will see Reggie Jackson, Tim Frazier, Langston Galloway, Thon Maker and Khyri Thomas in a Pistons uniform.

That represents $32,274,358 right off the bat. Culling those contracts off the books means the Pistons will have roughly $102 million in dedicated salary next season (including their first round pick).


The roster would be, before any additions:

PG: Bruce Brown, Derrick Rose
SG: Luke Kennard, Svi Mykahiliuk
SF: Sekou Doumbouya, Tony Snell
PF: Blake Griffin, Markieff Morris
C: Andre Drummond, Christian Wood

Rosters are, of course, 15 players, so the Pistons have a tiny war chest to start filling in the gaps. As the starting point for a team just starting to use the R word (Rebuild), that’s not too bad.

You also have Jordan Bone in the G League, who would likely be ready for a call up and a minimum salary deal, and Louis King, too, if you squint hard enough.

That’s three starters who are 23 or younger, including one who is 19. And this is presuming Andre Drummond opts in, which is unlikely.

Moving on from the Andre Drummond era

Drummond says he is opting out, the Pistons think he is opting out, and general consensus is someone is going to be willing to give him a multi-year deal large enough to convince him opting out is the right idea.

If Drummond isn’t traded and opts out, it likely means he plays for another organization in 2020-21. As a 27-year-old, he will not be on the same timeline as the rest of the Pistons young core. By the time the team is ready to be good, he will be 30 and in the midst of decline.

If he is traded, the likelihood is that the Pistons trade for an expiring salary and a draft pick. The pick would only make roughly $2 million. Now, instead of having $102 million in dedicated salary on 10 players, you likely have only $76 million on 10 guys (including the new draft pick).

Suddenly, Blake Griffin’s mammoth $36 million number is more sad than scary. The team would be looking at $40 million in cap room and, if they are truly rebuilding around a youth movement, unlikely to spend much of it in free agency.

Maybe the team grabs a veteran, defensive-minded center and an extra wing and calls it a day. That leaves a huge amount of cap space to utilize for in-season and offseason trades as other franchises look to offload money.

This is how rebuilding teams add effectively to their roster — they grab a couple extra first round picks and a handful of seconds to take on bad contracts.

More moves on the horizon?

If the Pistons, sans Drummond, is the most likely scenario, then the pressure to do any other moves would essentially be nil. They wouldn’t strictly need to create more flexibility. That doesn’t mean, however, they shouldn’t explore the market.

Derrick Rose has real value in the league. He’s performing well at point guard and maybe he has no interest in a rebuilding situation. He could be flipped and that’s another $7.6 million off the books.

Conversely, Detroit might want to keep Rose as a veteran point guard to help guide an extremely young roster without a lot of playmaking and also give the fans someone to cheer for.

Tony Snell doesn’t have the trade value of Rose, but he will be entering the last year of his deal. He is someone who a team desperate for 3-point shooting on the wing might be interested in and be willing to part with a bad multi-year contract (and a pick) in order to bring Snell into the fold.

Markieff Morris is the only other veteran under contract and, well, he doesn’t really have any trade value to speak of. Maybe he gets moved at the deadline next year as a back of the rotation candidate on a playoff team. Just don’t expect anything of significance in return.

What about Blake?

The truth is, the Pistons are not in a position where they need to trade Blake. That’s good because right now he’s pretty immovable. However, last year at this time Blake had real trade value. He was an All-NBA player. There is no saying that Blake won’t have a resurgent season in 2020-21.

While you obviously can’t trust his health, by this time next year he’ll only have one year at an admittedly massive $38 million number, left on his deal. That could be moveable. And if not then no sweat. While Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown will have hefty raises, assuming they are still on the team, Detroit will have more cap space then they have any reason to utilize.