Previously, we took a look at ESPN’s Bobby Marks’ estimate on all the Detroit Pistons’ pending free agents to get a better sense of what their market would look like. Marks is a former NBA GM with the Nets and talks to current executives all over the league.
Now, another former executive, John Hollinger, formerly of the Memphis Grizzlies, has taken a crack at how much pending free agents are worth, and he’s quite bullish on Pistons big man Christian Wood.
Wood’s worth is estimated at $15.8 million next season, per Hollinger’s analysis. Hollinger, true to form, built an analytical model combining various player-rating mechanisms to help come up with his valuations. That’s an important point because while Marks at ESPN tried to estimate how much a player would command on the free agent market, Hollinger is trying to figure out how valuable they will be.
Marks projected Wood to command a salary in the $10-$12 million range as an unrestricted free agent. Hollinger thinks he’ll be worth more than that, and even calls Wood “arguably the best free-agent center on the market.”
For what it’s worth, the only player to rate higher on Hollinger’s metric is Hassan Whiteside and former Piston Andre Drummond rated right below Wood on his scale.
Still, I think with these two pieces you’re staring straight down the barrel of what it will take to retain Wood if you’re the Pistons. Obviously, it only takes one team to make an offer you don’t feel comfortable matching — and some of the few teams with cap space do have needs at center (I’m looking at you New York and Charlotte), but it seems like Wood will secure between $12-15 million on his new deal, preferably from Detroit.
That’s too bad for Detroit because they would love to give him a long-term contract that starts in the $10 million range, and to understand why, you’ll need to join me deep in the depths of NBA salary cap nerdery.
I have occasionally seen confusion on what Detroit is “able” to offer Wood, so consider this an explainer of sorts that you can send to all your friends that are dying to know about Wood’s salary situation (those people exist, right?).
Wood was claimed off the scrap heap by Detroit, and the Pistons own his early bird rights. What are those? Those are provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that allow teams to more easily retain their own players within the NBA salary cap.
The NBA operates under a soft cap, meaning teams are often able to go beyond the cap as they add players — they do that through player exceptions such as early bird rights.
In the period between free agency and signing a new deal, players have cap holds placed on them. They are roster charges that count against the salary cap that go away once a player is renounced or the player signs a new deal.
Wood’s cap hold is quite small ($1.7 million) because he only made $1.645 million last season. That leaves Detroit with about $30 million in space under the salary cap. They plan to use that money on free agency or in trades.
For instance, just as a hypothetical, let’s say the Brooklyn Nets were desperate to pare back some salary and offered the No. 19 pick and Taurean Prince to Detroit. The Pistons could absorb Prince into their salary cap space, then spend $10 million split between a backup center and a point guard. They would then be just under the salary cap, but could exceed the cap to re-sign Wood.
But there’s a limit. Re-signing Wood under the early bird exception means Detroit can only offer a contract that begins at whatever the average annual salary is. In this case, that’s projected at about $10 million.
So Detroit would love to offer Wood a deal starting at $10 million to keep maximum financial flexibility.
But both Marks and Hollinger think Wood is both more valuable than that and will be paid as such. Does that mean the Pistons are unable to re-sign him? No.
It just means that the Pistons can’t re-sign him using the early bird exception. If they wanted to offer Wood a deal worth $13 million or $15 million or even more, they would have to waive the cap hold and use some of that $30 million in space to make room for Wood’s deal.
The team would then have between $15 and $17 million to maneuver through trades and free agency. The Pistons want to leverage as much flexibility as they can to add young players and future draft picks. If they can fit Wood onto the team using the early bird exception all the better, but it’s not required.
Get it? Got it? Good.