In a surprising, though not totally unexpected move, the Detroit Pistons re-signed veteran guard Rodney McGruder to a one-year veteran minimum deal, according to various media reports. The Pistons confirmed the move along with the re-signings of fellow guards Cory Joseph and Frank Jackson.
The Pistons still have the future of restricted free agent Hamidou Diallo to resolve, but otherwise seem to be wrapping up the offseason. All indications are that Diallo will return, either on a new multi-year deal or by signing his one-year qualifying offer and trying out unrestricted free agency next offseason.
Signing a lightly used veteran guard doesn’t exactly say much about the plans for next season, but it seems to indicate a few things and raises a few questions.
The Pistons are running it back and will still lose plenty of games
Detroit made major waves last offseason when they got rid of nearly their entire roster shortly into the season with only Sekou Doumbouya still around from the previous regime. It seems this year, the name of the game is continuity. The Pistons swapped out Kelly Olynyk for Mason Plumlee and added Trey Lyles for some big man depth, but otherwise they are running back a 20-win team.
Adding No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham will help a little, though not as much as fans expect, and some internal improvement in its stable of young players will make the team more competitive, but this restoration is far from complete, and the playoffs are clearly not the goal for this season.
The Pistons were extremely prudent with their offseason checkbook save for a hefty but short-term investment in Olynyk. The Pistons will have enough to add several impact players after this season via free agency or through trades. Clearly, Weaver has his eyes on the prize next year. With this year being about clarifying who belongs, who is expendable, and who can boost their trade value.
McGruder is here for defense and mentorship
Going hand-in-hand with stability and continuing to rebuild by focusing on the development of youth is bringing back a guy like McGruder. He held his own on the court in spot minutes last year, but he’s returning because he’s a hard worker, was beloved in the locker room and can continue working with guys like Cunningham and Killian in practice and getting in their ear on the bench. He’s also a dogged defender, and could set the bar for the two young guards, who both have plus defensive potential.
There are too many players and too few roster spots
The biggest surprise of the McGruder signing is that the Pistons were already under a bit of a roster crunch. The Pistons can carry 20 guys until opening night but then they will be limited to 15 roster spots and two two-way contracts. One of those two-way contracts has already been earmarked for undrafted free agent Chris Smith so we have 16 slots and the following players fighting for them: Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Cory Joseph, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Trey Lyles, Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee, Rodney McGruder, Sekou Doumbouya, Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Isaiah Livers, Frank Garza and Balsa Koprivicia. In case you lost track, that is 18 players, or two more than the limit.
It could be as simple as cutting a veteran like Okafor, giving a two-way to Garza and having Koprivicia play on an exhibit-10 in the G league (that would make Balsa eligible for a $35,000 G League salary and up to a $50,000 bonus). Alternatively, Balsa could sign a more lucrative deal with a team overseas and the Pistons would retain his draft rights.
The other option would be to make a trade. Players seemingly on the edge of the roster include Josh Jackson, Okafor and young players that might logically be available could be the still-developing Doumbouya and last year’s first-round pick Hayes. This option seems less likely, but a consolidation trade could be in the works.
This Team is Going to Look Very Different Next Season
Enjoy these faces while you can, Pistons fans, because Weaver is likely to throw another stick of dynamite next offseason depending on how a lot of these young players perform. The Pistons will have only four players not on rookie deals under contract if you assume team options will not be exercised — Cory Joseph, Saben Lee, Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk. Five if you count a returning Diallo.
McGruder, Josh Jackson and Okafor will all be unrestricted free agents. The team could cut bait on Lyles and Frank Jackson. The dead money to Joseph’s old deal, Deividas Sirvydis an the nearly $30 million to Griffin come off the books.
It’s unclear if Weaver’s master plan is focused on free agency, swinging a big trade or simply having the flexibility to take the best route put in front of him, but I can’t see Weaver not going for broke next offseason. Doesn’t really seem to be his style.