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NBA Free Agency: After flurry of moves, how much money do the Detroit Pistons have left to spend?

Detroit Pistons added six players in trades and via the NBA Draft and only sent one out so we also examine potential rotations on the eve of free agency

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

It’s always dangerous to look at Troy Weaver’s moves in a vacuum, but for the sake of argument let’s say that Trader Troy is done wheeling and dealing as the GM for the Detroit Pistons.

Let’s at least pretend that the six players he’s added via the draft and trades are here to stay. Let’s even go so far as to pretend this is the roster the Pistons will have on opening night and start to build a rotation. It will at least help us assess what that next Weaver move might be as the team prepares for the start of free agency on Thursday.

For any confused Pistons fans, I know you have questions. They are probably as follows: What the heck just happened? How much money does Detroit have left? How is this going to work? What’s next? Why, God, why?

We will take those one at a time.

Detroit Pistons Draft Press Conference Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

What the Heck Just Happened?

Weaver’s one big move is actually broken up into three component parts (so far). He traded Jerami Grant before the draft for a 2025 Milwaukee Bucks first-rounder and a jump in the second round from the 40s and into the 36th pick.

On NBA Draft night, he was part of a complicated three-team deal with the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets that netted Detroit the 13th pick, which was used to select Jalen Duren, and Kemba Walker.

On Tuesday night, Weaver re-engaged with the Knicks on a separate deal that saw Detroit receive Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, two future second-round picks (including Detroit’s own 2023 pick that was traded away way back in 2018 for Khyri Thomas) and $6 million in exchange for nothing.

Though that’s not really true. They likely technically will receive the $20 million traded player exception Detroit received from Portland in the Grant deal. That appeals to the Knicks because they want to clear space and take nothing back in return so they can sign Jalen Brunson to a deal they will likely end up regretting.

A traded player exception cannot be traded along with players which is why this is being set up as two separate transactions.

How Much Money Does Detroit Have Left?

The Pistons entered the offseason with the NBA’s most cap space, and that ballooned to as much as $55 million once the Grant trade was made. But after all this dust settles, the Pistons will have roughly $23 million, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Of course, that doesn’t factor in the inevitable new contract for Marvin Bagley III who is widely expected to return to Detroit on a new multi-year deal.

For the sake of argument, we will give Bagley a starting salary of $8 million next season. Let’s even be bold and say that the $6 million in cash from the Knicks represents Kemba’s buyout number. That means Detroit gets an extra $3 million back. That would leave $18 million to spend in free agency, and the Pistons would have 14 players under contract and only one roster spot to fill.

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

How is This Going to Work?

Wow, this is a tough question. The short answer is it probably doesn’t. The slightly longer answer is it so clearly doesn’t that it means there are more moves on the horizon. And the galaxy brain answer is Weaver thinks it can work well enough and is willing to trot out this lineup next season come what may.

We can start thinking about rotations, but even figuring out who your starters are going to be is a bit tough. First, the team has a giant crater where it’s power forward spot used to be and second, they just trade for a traditional center and are about to sign Bagley to a multi-year deal, and his best position is center, and that’s just two years removed from drafting Isaiah Stewart, who started all 71 games he played last season.

We will just rip the band-aide off and come up with a starting lineup:

  • Point guard: Cade Cunningham
  • Shooting guard: Alec Burks
  • Small Forward: Saddiq Bey
  • Power Forward: Crater Marvin Bagley III
  • Center: Nerlens Noel

This starting lineup, I am sure, is not without controversy. First, I’m slotting in the 3-point shooting and defense of veteran Alec Burks above shiny new piece and franchise building block Jaden Ivey. But defense and 3-point shooting matter, and they are in short supply in Detroit.

Next, I am giving Bagley the starting power forward job, but that is mostly by default. There are truly no clear candidates on the roster. Would you rather just put Stewart there and tell him to shoot 6 threes a game? Do you put Kelly Olynyk there and hope he cold hold up physically to the grind of chasing around younger, faster players every game? Do you just downshift and start Bey there and look for a new starting small forward? That position is certainly the team’s biggest question mark at the moment.

Then at center I am trading the tenacious but undersized Stewart for Noel simply because Noel offers some verticality Stewart doesn’t and is also a more stout rim protector. However, I would say at this point Stewart is the better rebounder despite giving up 3 inches, and is also likely the better overall defender because of his versatility so it’s really a coin flip.

OK, now we get to the bench where things get much more fun.

  • Point guard: Killian Hayes
  • Shooting guard: Jaden Ivey
  • Small Forward: Isaiah Livers
  • Power Forward: Kelly Olynyk
  • Center: Isaiah Stewart

First, let’s talk about Jaden Ivey. The rookie is an important part of Detroit’s future and a core foundational piece going forward. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to start. I feel like Casey will want him to be the featured guy in a bench unit, and will not want to overwhelm him. Also, he’ll want shooting and Burks provides that.

The betting markets have Ivey as +450 to be Rookie of the Year, behind only Paolo Banchero of the Magic and Jabari Smith Jr. of the Rockets, per DraftKings. I don’t think it’s wrong to be bullish on Ivey’s playing time and contributions. He’s going to score points, he’ll likely have a couple amazing games, and even more highlight dunks. But for now, I think that comes mostly off the bench.

This is acting like the rotation is 10 deep, and we haven’t even accounted for returning players Cory Joseph (1,600 minutes last season), Hamidou Diallo (1,269 minutes) or Saben Lee (604 minutes) or ultimate lob threat Jalen Duren.

In reality, Casey is unlikely to go to a 10-man rotation, but when things are clicking this is probably a bench squad he wants to roll out. Imagine the kind of passes Hayes would be able to make to Ivey and Duren with Livers and Olynyk parked on the perimeter?

And when the rookies struggle, you turn to your trustier veterans with Joseph likely getting first dibs to spell Ivey and Duren’s center minutes absorbed by the trio of Olynyk, Bagley and Stewart.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

What’s Next?

The Pistons have a glaring need at power forward, and also a need to add more perimeter shooting and roughly $18 million to make it happen. The team could sign a new viable starting power forward (come on down Otto Porter Jr or Bobby Portis), but it only exacerbates the big man glut.

I think it’s perfectly fair to assume a trade is on the horizon, and players who should probably pack an overnight bag include Olynyk, Lee, Joseph, Diallo, Stewart and Hayes. I’m not saying they’ll all get traded, and I’m not even saying most of them will be dealt. But if Weaver is looking to further strengthen and balance the roster, those are likely the names he’s trying to fit into deals.

Why, God, Why?

Pistons fans were at one time dreaming of trading Jerami Grant for John Collins or the seventh overall pick. They saw cap space and wanted Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges. They saw the play-in game or even the playoffs.

Setting aside how unlikely all that was, Detroit ended up with some reliable veterans on expiring deals, a renewed commitment to developing their young guys with the fortuitous and perhaps unexpected addition of Ivey and Duren, and just an absolute metric ton of cap space and flexibility going forward.

As competent veterans on expiring deals, Noel and Burks can help Detroit on the floor and be flipped at the deadline to contenders for an actual asset. If the Pistons struggle again this year, the next draft is absurdly deep and you feel like you could get a true impact player anywhere in the top eight of the draft.

And if Noel and Burks stay past the deadline, Detroit has the ability to keep them around and fill a gap or decline their option and go big-game hunting, but for real this time.

Detroit’s cap sheet is just absurdly clean next season. The Pistons will see $8.9 million in dead money come off the books from DeAndre Jordan and Zhaire Smith. They also only have $3 million guaranteed to Olynyk.

If you bring back Cade, Killian, Beef Stew, Saddiq, Livers, Ivey and Duren, and then add on the dead money of Dewayne Dedmon and assume Bagley returns, you’re only looking at salary commitments of $51.7 million in 2023-24. Add a couple of roster charges and for sake of argument, the seventh pick in the next NBA Draft and the Pistons would be staring at $57 million in salary obligations. The salary cap is anticipated to be roughly $132 million.

A big chunk of that could be earmarked for extensions for one or all of Bey, Stewart and Hayes, but they’ll still have plenty of money to spend. I imagine Troy Weaver could think of a few ways to utilize nearly $75 million in cap space, and I’m certain he’s going to do it with an eye toward building a team that could win now and into the foreseeable future.

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