The universal reaction to the Detroit Pistons finally trading Jerami Grant seems to be “That’s it? That’s all you got?” Understandable considering Grant was Troy Weaver’s first major signing and was reportedly being shopped for multiple first-round picks. The floor of his value seemed to be the late teens.
Instead, he was traded for a single 2025 first-round pick that will likely land in the late 20s (courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks) and a couple of minor second-round transactions. Again, “That’s it? That’s all you got?”
Only, it seems Troy Weaver was much less interested in future draft capital than he was in immediate financial flexibility. The Pistons took back no salary in exchange for Grant, instead dealing him to the Portland Trail Blazers for a large traded player exception they owned courtesy of the Norm Powell trade to the Clippers.
The move gives the Pistons somewhere between $42 and $55 million in cap space this offseason depending on whether they decline options on players like Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo.
What does a team do with $55 million in cap space? Anything it damn well pleases. Will they get anything, much less everything, they are after? That remains to be seen.
It’s clear that Weaver has his sights set on some big game, and No. 1 on his list is Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton. The young center has seemingly burned some bridges with the Suns, and there was already some smoke regarding interest between Ayton’s camp and Detroit.
That smoke is now a five-alarm five. But because of his restricted free agent status, the Suns can match any offer. Maybe Troy saw the lay of the land and is confident the Phoenix brass will not bring back a discontented young player and will let Ayton sign with a new team.
That seems unlikely, though. The two sides could always work out a sign-and-trade so that Ayton gets a new home (and new starring role) and Phoenix gets some face-saving compensation.
But if Ayton was put on the open market plenty of teams would be willing to sign him to a max deal and offer a package much more attractive than anything Detroit could offer. At this point, Detroit’s available “assets” amount to the low first-rounder they got for Grant, Kelly Olynyk’s moderate deal and ... that’s about it. Killian Hayes could be offloaded but he’s not much of a get for a contending team. I suppose Isaiah Stewart could be made available, but there is no sign Weaver is interested in parting with his young big man.
But Ayton does have some control over his destiny. Perhaps he is ready to sign an offer sheet with Detroit and Detroit only to form a young two-man game with Cade Cunningham. And daring Phoenix to match.
My question is, what if Phoenix then matches? What is Troy Weaver’s plan for his $55 million bounty then?
This is a poor free-agent class. The next high-profile young free agent is Miles Bridges. He’s not as good as Ayton, and he’s just as likely to be matched by his incumbent team.
So what’s Plan B?
It sure as hell better not be to sign soon-to-be-29-year-old Bradley Beal, who just announced his intention to decline his option and enter unrestricted free agency. The talk of the Pistons chasing Jalen Brunson seems to have cooled.
That leaves a crop that isn’t exactly earth-shaking or franchise-moving. Collin Sexton at shooting guard. Mitchell Robinson at center. Malik Monk on the wing.
Then, of course, there is the potential to sin eat some other team’s unruly contracts. The Knicks are desperate to open up cap space in order to sign the aforementioned Brunson. Could you get the No. 11 pick in Thursday’s draft if you promise to take back Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier? Walker would be expiring but Fournier has a guaranteed $18.8 million in 2023-24. Is that worth the 11th pick?
Charlotte is desperate to cut salary in order to more easily retain Miles Bridges. If instead of wanting Bridges you want to steal one or both of the 13th and 15th picks from Charlotte, could you do it by taking back Gordon Hayward?
If a team decides they want to chase Kyrie Irving in free agency but can only do it by offloading salary it seems like Detroit could be their first call?
It all depends on what Troy Weaver’s plan is. He obviously has a Plan A centered on building a competitive team quickly. But if Plan A doesn’t work, he can’t afford to just sign lesser players to get only marginally better.
His Plan B needs to be just as bold, even if it means another year of losing. He talks a lot about restoration, but you can’t restore anything using substandard parts.