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NBA Free Agency: Will Christian Wood return to Detroit?

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NBA Free Agency officially begins at 6 p.m. Friday

Utah Jazz v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Everything about the maneuverings of the Detroit Pistons from last year’s trade deadline to the beginning of November pointed to one thing — the organization was seriously committed to bringing back Christian Wood on a multi-year deal.

The team traded high-priced center Andre Drummond to Cleveland for nothing more than a low second-round pick explicitly so his $28 million salary would be off the books. When new GM Troy Weaver came on board he called retaining Christian Wood a “priority” for the team.

The Pistons had roughly $30 million under the salary cap with an eye toward reserving the largest chunk of that money to ensure they could give Wood a new deal.

Fast forward to today and the picture is much less clear. The team traded for Trevor Ariza’s $12.8 million salary, Rodney McGruder’s $5.2 million deal, the $3.5 million owed to center Tony Bradley and the $2 million owed to Dzanan Musa on or before the draft in exchange for added picks.

Those picks make more than the NBA minimum so that was yet another cap hit. An estimated $5.3 million for Killian Hayes, $3.1 for Isaiah Stewart and $2.7 for Saddiq Bey.

When the dust settled the players above were here, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown were gone, some players were cut and we threw in a Tony Snell for Dewayne Dedmon trade in for good measure.

Per John Hollinger at the Athletic, that leaves the Pistons with roughly $11.5 million to offer Wood in free agency. If the Pistons believe Wood will command a deal starting at roughly $10 million they could actually use that $11.5 million in cap space on other players and sign Wood to deal over the cap using Wood’s early bird rights.

But would you rather get $10 million from Detroit or $10 million from the Boston Celtics? My money would be on the Celtics, and Wood promises to be in high demand among every team able and willing to offer the full mid-level exception, and that includes many contenders.

There are also two teams potentially looking for big men who have ample cap room to go above that $10 million number — the Charlotte Hornets who are looking for a big man after not getting James Wiseman in the draft, and the New York Knicks who are always big game hunting.

Does that mean there is no way Christian Wood is returning to Detroit?

No. The Pistons, per Hollinger, have a move they can make to create an additional $4 million in space to potentially give Wood an offer he can’t refuse. McGruder makes $5.2 million this year and $5 million next year fully non-guaranteed. That means the Pistons could Stretch McGruder’s salary and have it count only $1 million against the cap for the next five seasons.

This would also afford the Pistons the chance of working out a sign-and-trade for Wood if he wants to sign a deal with another team but also looking to make the most per-year possible. Considering how long Wood has fought on the fringes of the NBA, playing on minimum deals and going back-and-forth to the G League, I wouldn’t begrudge him maximizing his earning potential. And in this case, it could benefit the Pistons.

Then there is the mystery of what the Pistons plan on doing with Dedmon. The word almost as soon as the trade was executed was that he would be on the move again in a future deal. So far that move has not arrived. The Pistons actually took on a hair more money than they sent out with Tony Snell and the partial guarantee on Khyri Thomas (who was subsequently released by Atlanta).

Makes you wonder what the appeal was in trading for Dedmon in the first place, and it seems we will soon find out. His deal also has only a small guarantee of $1 million for next season so he would be another potential stretch candidate but that would count $5.2 million against the cap for five seasons. That’s Josh Smith money, and the Pistons just finally got that blemish off their cap sheet and I don’t think they are eager for a hit so large to return to their books.

If the team has to exceed the cap to re-sign Wood they will likely be stuck hunting to fill the roster with minimum salary players. If they are able to fit Wood into a deal with early bird rights, they can grab a slightly bigger fish — and would likely be eyeing a veteran point guard and maybe another big man.

Don’t forget, there is also the potential to trade the few remaining veterans — Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, and any players who come back might finish out the roster without really doing anything in free agency.

Usually there is an onslaught of rumors trickling out in the hours leading up to free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone is pretty tight-lipped until 6 p.m. tonight after the NBA opened an investigation into Milwaukee and Sacremento’s for-now aborted sign-and-trade deal for Bogan Bogdonovich. Teams and players are technically not allowed to start negotiating a new deal until free agency begins (wink, wink). The madness will begin promptly, however, at 6:01.