“Christian Wood had a breakout season in 2019-20 for your Detroit Pistons, and now he’s an unrestricted free agent. The Pistons, finally undergoing a bottoming out that has been a long time coming, should do everything in their power to re-sign Wood, one of the only players with a bright, productive future on the roster.”
You can find phrasing like that across many an offseason preview for the Pistons, but it’s not wholly true. Let’s lay out the case for the Pistons electing to let Christian Wood go in free agency:
This early in a “restoration,” you need a clean (cap) slate
The offseason previews get one thing right: This is indeed Ground Zero of the Troy Weaver Restoration Project. But you don’t want ground zero to start below sea level.
With so few teams in possession of cap space and with few marquee names available in free agency, most assume that free agency will be quiet this offseason. I’m worried about the opposite - that a lack of solid free agency Plan B’s makes teams convinced that they need to overpay for a guy with Wood’s upside. “If we miss on Wood, we end up with Bobby Portis instead” is a reason to overbid on Wood for teams like Charlotte, Phoenix, or Sacramento.
With that in mind, the Pistons cannot be one of the teams overbidding on Wood. Even with $30 million available in cap space, it doesn’t make sense to pay any player that much when you figure to be losing as much as the Pistons are in the next two years. Paying Christian Wood $17 million annually to excite the fans and cause you to lose by eight instead of 13 most nights isn’t the best use of that cap space for Detroit.
I outlined a better use of that cap space in an earlier piece at Detroit Bad Boys. However, if you don’t like clicking in-line links, the TL;DR is that it’s better to use that $17 million to take on a bad player and get multiple draft picks - in this year’s “bad” draft or in other, future “good” drafts.
Production at the wrong position
Christian Wood is a man between positions. That sounds like a benefit in this era of ostensibly position-less basketball, but Wood isn’t without a position, he’s stuck between two positions. On offense, you want him playing center; then he can use his first step to blow by slower-footed defenders on the perimeter on his way to the rim. On defense, you want him playing power forward, where he can use his length and quickness to affect shots from the weak side or play passing lanes in help.
For what it’s worth, Wood’s not alone in this - players like John Collins and Marvin Bagley III also come to mind - but as a guy who’s better as a center offensively and a power forward defensively, it is tough to find a frontcourt partner for Wood. Ideally, the best complement for these types of players would be guys who can stretch the floor on offense and hold up at the point of attack defensively - but every team is looking for those types of players, complementary big man or not.
The type of player you would pair with Wood or Collins or Bagley is more valuable than those guys on their own.
Won’t get fooled again
This is the biggest potential issue with signing Wood long-term - He’s no longer a surprise.
Last year, Christian Wood started the year competing with Joe Johnson for Detroit’s final roster spot, worked his way into decimating bench units, then became a starter.
Next year, as a member of the Pistons, at least, Wood would be at the top of the scouting report for teams playing Detroit. He goes from “who’s that dude?” to “don’t let that dude beat us.” Adjusting to being in the on-court spotlight is difficult even for players who are great.
It would not be surprising if he cannot replicate the production he had last year when teams are both more aware of him scouting wise and keyed up for him. Even if he plays with Blake Griffin (however long he plays with Blake Griffin) teams will be scheming to keep him out of the paint and make him a jump shooter, the “weakest” part of his offensive game.
Hey @Chriswood_5 what did you think about Devin Booker’s game winner? Just curious.— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) August 5, 2020
There’s also a big range of possibilities between “paying Christian Wood $17 million annually” and “letting him leave for nothing.” The Pistons could sign him to a lower number, or work out a sign-and-trade (James Edwards III at The Athletic explored the latter possibility) for a win-win - the Pistons get assets while Christian gets a fat check.
But this early in a restoration, bringing Wood back is not an “At-Any-Cost” proposition for the Detroit Pistons.