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How the Detroit Pistons should use their cap space this summer

Cap space! What is it good for? Fixin’ mistakes.

Sacramento Kings v Detroit Pistons Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Remember when we thought this was a playoff team?

Yeah. ANYWAY, now that Ed Stefanski burned this sucker to the ground for the insurance money (don’t tell the claims adjuster), it’s time to figure out what to do with the payout. Your Detroit Pistons have a projected $34.3 million in cap space this offseason - what should they do with it? Well...

Become Sin-Eaters:

What’s a Sin-Eater? I’m glad you asked:

“Morally indefensible, and absolutely necessary” perfectly sums up my Pistons fandom at this point, fwiw.

Sin-Eating is the classic way a bad team uses it’s cap space: To absorb big-money contracts other teams have no interest in paying (for whatever reason - maybe the player hasn’t performed up to expectations, maybe the team wants to escape the luxury tax, maybe a new front office is in place and they want to clean house), and get the draft picks that come with ingesting said contracts. Looking around the league, there are a few contracts that stand out:

Sure, Golden State is talking a good game about wanting Wiggins, but that won’t last. Harrison Barnes has had “The Disappointing” prepended to his name since his time at North Carolina, so it’s no surprise the Kings would want to clear his money off the books (especially to facilitate re-signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who we’re going to get to in a second). Eric Gordon will be gone in Houston’s Great Cleansing once their coach and GM both depart this offseason. When the Cavaliers have Andre Drummond and James Wiseman (you know they’re gonna do it), they won’t need Nance Jr., who is on a very Jon Leuer-esque deal for them. And Nicolas Batum has been overpaid since the moment he signed his $100-million-plus deal.

Of these individual players, I think Detroit’s best bet is Harrison Barnes. Sacramento has all of their draft picks moving forward, are lottery-bound again, and will be looking to commit big money to a De’Aaron Fox - Buddy Hield - Bogdan Bogdanovic - Marvin Bagley III core. You could get something like Memphis’ 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 first-rounder from Sacramento to take that Barnes deal off their hands.

In addition to the Pistons eating other team’s sins, they should be using their cap space to corner teams into committing their own transgressions.

Restricted Free Agents to make their teams bleed:

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Jakob Pöltl
  • De’Anthony Melton

One of the basic tenets of rebuilding is MTFU: Make Them Feel You. With enough cap space to make a max contract offer to restricted free agents, the Pistons can force other teams to overpay to retain their own players. Although you would rather have these players on your team than force their teams’ hands, forcing things has ripple effects: The UGLY offer sheet Brooklyn signed Otto Porter to a few years back was a big part of the reason the Wizards had to dump him for spare parts later.

In that vein, the Pistons should absolutely offer Ingram (first time All-Star this year, much improved as a shooter, plays the most valuable position) a max contract and force New Orleans to match it. Bogdanovic, perhaps, isn’t worthy of a full post-rookie max, but the Pistons also are in position to make the Kings do Kings things.

Pöltl and Melton aren’t worthy of max deals either, but as young role players who would fit in seamlessly in Detroit (Bruce - Melton - Okoro? HELLHOUND LINEUP?), it makes sense for the Pistons to offer semi-lucrative contracts.

Those are the the traditional uses for cap space for a team in Detroit’s position. If they eat a little sin, and strike out in the restricted free agency market, what additions should this team make to offset their departing free agents and leave behind a functioning-but-bad NBA roster?

A few suggestions:

Oldhead PGs to mentor Killian Hayes:

  • D.J. Augustin
  • Rajon Rondo

Dwane Casey leans on Derrick Rose a lot (A LOT) to generate offense for Detroit, so you might think “Why would the Pistons add two more point guards to the roster in the offseason?” I’ll tell you: Watching Rose play night after night has been instructive for Bruce Brown, who you can tell has tried to add some things Rose does to his game (the over-the-head reverse after doing the Nash/CP3 “midget” drive under the rim, a jumpstop floater).

In the same vein, when the Pistons select Killian Hayes (I am willing this into existence), he will need an oldhead point guard to show him which reads are and aren’t available at higher levels of play, to talk to him about keeping his handle tight, and to just shepherd him through NBA life.

I would never EVER want Rondo to see the floor for the Pistons (and Casey would ABSOLUTELY play him), but there are few players that can match his basketball IQ - he’d be a great point guard professor for Hayes. Augustin can’t match Rondo for BBIQ, but as an undersized guy who’s hung around a long time and worn a lot of different hats, he has the NBA life lessons you’d want to impart on your PGOTF.

Rim-Running, Rim-Protecting Bigs to play next to Blake and Wood:

  • Nerlens Noel
  • Harry Giles
  • Jakob Pöltl
  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Skal Labissiere
  • Cheick Diallo
  • Noah Vonleh

Neither Blake Griffin nor Christian Wood are centers, and neither Blake nor Christian are pluses defensively. So, you need a big man to protect the rim defensively and not get in the way on offense alongside both of those guys. The listed guys could (probably) do that, but more importantly, they could do it for (probably) not that much money.

The guy I would prioritize on this list is Nerlens Noel, who has been legitimately good backing up Steven Adams in Oklahoma City. This year, Noel is allowing opponents to shoot 52.5% from six feet and in, which is pretty good, and has a TS% north of 70(!)%, thanks to shooting EIGHTY-FOUR percent at the rim. He has always been a guy with good stocks (career averages of 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game), and has been a decent individual rebounder. You offer him a chance to start and a long-term contract, I think he takes you up on it.

Plus, it’d be fun to watch Noel and Wood re-enact the “Tryouts” scene from The Dark Knight when it’s lob-catching time:

You Must Construct Additional Sekous

  • Wes Iwundu
  • Torrey Craig
  • Josh Jackson
  • Louis King?

Every NBA team is looking for a wing-sized wing who can pass, dribble, shoot, and play a little defense. None of those guys are going to be available in free agency, and if they ARE, they are certainly going to be either out of the Pistons’ price range or their teams will match any offers (see our Brandon Ingram discussion above).

So, the Pistons should be looking at the next-best thing: Wing-sized wing players who can capably defend and make threes. The hope is you can teach those guys to make two dribbles and a good decision, and then you’ve got the Meijer-brand version of the most coveted thing in the league.

Iwundu and Craig both have good size and the reputation of being good defenders, but inconsistent three-point shooting is what would make them available for Detroit. Josh Jackson’s off-the-court issues have been the reason for his fall from grace after being selected at No. 4 overall in 2017 - you would hope that after the success of the Christian Wood Experiment, the Pistons would be confident in Dwane Casey’s ability to get through to another player with professionalism questions. And Louis King has plugged away in Grand Rapids, shooting 35% from three on good volume, flashing the occasional playmaking ability, and looking adaptable defensively.

It’s going to be a long road back to the top for the Detroit Pistons. And a long road means just that - there are no shortcuts, no Fred VanVleet to take them back to non-embarrassing mediocrity. But you pave that road with cheap swings on talent and expensive ingestion of other team’s mistakes - and that’s how Detroit can maximize their available cap space in July 2020.