Over the past few summers, the Detroit Pistons have spent exorbitantly to build a core they believed would bring them into championship contention. The process began in 2012 when the club drafted Andre Drummond with the ninth overall pick out of the University of Connecticut. Four years later, promising play led to the center agreeing to a five-year max extension.
He'll be due around $25 million each season until 2020-21, taking up a large portion of the team's salary cap space.
Also receiving a large salary is Reggie Jackson, who, thanks to the contract he signed two summers ago, will be making $51 million over the next three years.
The Pistons thought they had their point guard/center tandem of the future locked up when they made these deals, and you can't blame their thought process.
Before injuries and inconsistent play befell him last season, Jackson put up 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game, while Drummond averaged beyond a double-double at 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds.
Jackson arrived in a trade, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as did two other members of the current core in Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley.
The former was acquired through a deal with the Orlando Magic in which the Pistons swiped a versatile 16 point-per-game scorer for the expiring assets of Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.
Harris will be making $30.8 million over the next two seasons, well below market value for his production. Bradley, who was most recently dealt for from the Boston Celtics, also has an extremely valuable contract, albeit one that expires after this next season.
That just leaves the last member of the main core in Stanley Johnson. The third-year forward is still on his rookie contract, having been drafted in 2015, and will be expected to make a big leap in his quality of play this season after a stagnant sophomore campaign.
Regarding their likely starting lineup (the players mentioned thus far), the Pistons have enough good contracts to balance out their more expensive ones at the moment. However, Bradley, Harris, and Johnson will all have their contracts run out in the next two seasons. They could all theoretically be retained, but it will take a lot of capital, particularly in Bradley’s case.
What makes matters even worse for the Pistons are the contracts they handed out to supporting players. Jon Leuer’s deal specifically stands out as poor, as he’s due $30 million over the next three years. As was the case for many mid-tier assets last summer, Detroit wound up paying too much for the services of a role player at best.
Outside of their trade for Bradley and the $7 million per year contract given to Langston Galloway, you might have noticed the Pistons remained somewhat dormant this summer.
Quite simply, this is because they had no money to spend. The Pistons will also be up against the cap next season as well, with $106 million in guaranteed salary already on the books and at least two free agents hitting the market.
It will be a challenge just to bring back their current team, let alone add new players, which means the team’s core is more or less set.
Whatever growth the team can accrue will have to come through individual improvement rather than talent acquisition. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility, as Jackson, Johnson, Harris, and Drummond could all improve beyond their performance last season.
Can the Pistons develop into a contender under these circumstances? Only time will tell, but it is safe to say that we can’t expect any blockbuster moves from the team in the near future.