Sitting on the edge of the playoffs, the Pistons have discovered a rare sense of hope among the often despair franchise. For once, the future looks bright. But the last place an NBA team wants to end up is in perennial 8-seed purgatory--not quite a contender, but just good enough to miss out on the spoils of tanking. What are some potential moves Stan Van Gundy can plan for this offseason? Let's look at possible FA targets.
Former Pistons GM Joe Dumars trying very hard to sign a free agent, probably
(Note: this is Part II of On The Cusp, a series in which we look at the Piston's possible moves this summer that could vault them into contention. If you missed Part I where we highlighted 4 potential draft picks, you can catch up on it here)
The Pistons face an interesting free agent situation this offseason. With every team's cap set to rise to around $89 million next year -- a $20 million rise in cap space (which is estimated to jump another $10 million the following season) -- contract management is in an awkward stage. A max contract today simply won't look anything like a max contract in just a few months. As a result, guys like LeBron justifiably signed one year contracts, set to expire this summer in order to secure a better paycheck when there's more money on the table.
The Pistons, for what feels like the first time in forever, are an up-and-coming team. They have young, attractive pieces, and should have about $14 million in cap room this summer to attract a mid-tier free agent, or a mix of cheaper options.
Before we dive into who they might call when the circus known as the NBA Moratorium rolls around, it's important to give props where they're due. Earlier in the season, Andre Drummond and the Pistons' higher-ups held a meeting. They came out of this meeting with $14 million in cap space that would not exist had Drummond demanded a (much deserved) max extension the moment the cap jumped up a level. Instead, he agreed to delay his payday so the Pistons would have breathing room to improve.
He didn't actually take a pay-cut (a la what Dirk Nowitzki did so the Mavs could chase Chandler Parsons, Wes Matthews, and Deandre Jordan, to mixed and hilarious results), but by agreeing to delay guaranteed money, Drummond gave the Pistons enough firepower to really land an impact player. What's the big deal? He's getting the same contract, just waiting a few months, right? Well, yes, and no. Young, rising stars like Drummond get injured all the time (i.e. Grant Hill, Shaun Livingston, Greg Oden), so it is 100% his right to secure himself financially as soon as possible, and most players do. On the Piston's end, management made a ballsy call that Drummond would understand what they wanted to achieve by delaying his contract. In a similar situation, the Houston Rockets saw their relationship with Chandler Parsons decay after they asked him to do the same thing. It didn't help that the Rockets proceeded to low-ball Parsons when the time came to actually offer him a contract, but the Pistons aren't at that stage with Drummond yet, and something tells me Stan Van Gundy will do right by his flourishing center. It's a savvy move by both the player and the front office in this case. By getting a little room this summer, the Pistons potentially save themselves from locking into a mediocre roster that would likely chase the 6 seed until it fell apart.
They've got ammunition now. But simply having cap space isn't enough. When July 1st hits, the Pistons have to take a shot and land big. Here's a few potential free agents targets:
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Why they should go for him: It seems like everyone and their grandmothers are talking Ryan Anderson to the Pistons this summer. Makes sense on paper. He's got a reputation as a deadly sniper with a quick release, has legitimate size for a Stretch 4, and was a big part of Stan Van Gundy's notorious 4-out offense in Orlando. Detroit could certainly fit him into their roster with the cap space mentioned, and the theory would be to unclog the paint with a guy that can play starter's minutes in Van Gundy's system.
Why they shouldn't go for him: ?Whenever a team picks up a guy in the offseason and it seems like a perfect fit, it rarely is. Remember when the 2010 Cavs picked up Antawn Jamison and were penciled in as title favorites? Whether a player gets injured, simply doesn't deliver on expectations, or has flaws that weren't apparent before changing teams, these non-superstar saviors rarely offer as promised. Anderson is a good shooter, but he isn't elite (36.6% from deep this year, right around his career averages). He's a poor rebounder at his position, only grabbing 6 boards per game. While I'm not a huge fan of that statistic, he also only has a rebound percentage of 10.9% -- a measure of how many total rebounds a player obtains while on the court -- compared to a player like Kevin Love who spends a lot of on-court time in similar spots as Anderson, yet sports a REB% of 17.9%. On defense, Anderson is a sieve. He's too groundbound to protect the rim, too slow to switch Pick & Rolls on the perimeter, and isn't strong enough on the interior.
The Verdict? If its at all a possibility, the Pistons should absolutely sign Ryan Anderson?. His problems defensively should be minimized by the destructive eraser that is Andre Drummond (although Drummond needs to bring a more consistent effort on D), as well as a slew of improving perimeter defenders (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson). Detroit is also one of the top rebounding teams in the league, and can absorb Anderson's issues on the glass. What they really need him for is spacing from a big man. When Drummond unleashes a devastating rim roll, it's so much cleaner for the offense if there isn't another big clogging the paint, and the only way that works is if the Stretch 4 in this scenario has actual gravity from deep. Anderson might not be as knockdown from there as people think, but you can't leave him open, and for Detroit, that should be enough.
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Why they should go for him:
"7-foot Bieber" offers most of what Ryan Anderson does at a much cheaper price tag. He's actually a tiny bit more accurate from long distance (37.7% this year compared to Anderson's 36.6%), although he takes a lot less threes than Anderson and is offered a lot more open looks. He's got legitimate size, runs the floor well, and has a REB% of 12.8%. He's decent as the roll man in the P&R if he fills in when Drummond needs a rest, and he brings a lot of charged up energy to any unit he's in.
Why they shouldn't go for him: Leonard might be the most awkward player I've ever seen. He'll go up for a massive dunk, already hollering "And-1" in mid air, before getting stuffed by someone like Andrew Bogut. He's a decent athlete, but is the opposite of quick, meaning he can't hedge or switch when defending the P&R. He's long, but isn't strong enough to survive a post-up from someone like Demarcus Cousins (although if we're being honest, nobody is strong enough to hold that guy in place). Leonard doesn't protect the rim well, gets lost on rotations (but is improving on that end)?, and is too emotional sometimes. To borrow a poker term, Leonard might lead the league in "minutes played while tilted."
The Verdict? He's a restricted free agent, meaning Portland will get the opportunity to match, but considering their contract talks fell apart last deadline it's a safe bet to throw at least $5,000,000 a year at someone like Leonard. If you're Detroit, the upside is getting a young Stretch Big on the cheap. The downside? Wasting a small chunk of salary room that will look even smaller when the cap jumps another $20 million in two years.
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Why they should go for him: ?Batum's had a big bounceback year in 2016 after a career worst season. He's long, a serviceable ball handler, an okay three point shooter (35%), and a good on-ball defender. He's a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Detroit doesn't have a desperate need for a wing, especially after Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris have gotten off to such promising starts, but having a player as flexible as Batum never hurts. Harris and Morris don't generate a lot of offense for their teammates, and Batum can be a secondary playmaker next to one of those guys. He doesn't kill floor spacing, but he can get to the rim. His lengthy perimeter D combined with KCP's stickiness would be a tough night for any backcourt.
Why they shouldn't go for him: He's going to be very expensive. If Detroit offers Batum slightly more than his current contract (which still won't be as much as Charlotte will probably offer, since they have his Bird Rights), it'll eat all their cap space. Do they really want to spend that money on a slightly clogged position? He doesn't have the same gravity Ryan Anderson has from outside, and he isn't the lockdown defender you'd think he'd be with his physical tools.
The Verdict? Probably won't matter, since Batum will get bigger money elsewhere and is probably not looking to move to Michigan. But if? Detroit can fit him in, he'd offer them a lineup flexibility that Stan Van Gundy has had a lot of success with on previous teams. Steve Clifford, Batum's current coach and former assistant on SVG's Orlando teams, compared Batum to Hedo Turkoglu, a do-it-all wing. Although Turkoglu is now a living, crusty meme, he was once a crucial part of a championship contender. Batum can offer the same benefits -- shooting, length, playmaking, defense -- at positions 2-4. Since the eruption of Draymond Green, every team is looking for that kind of versatility, especially on defense, where Batum can switch on a lot of matchups.
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Why they should go for him: I know what you're thinking: this must be a joke, right? Who's killing themselves over Jared Dudley? Well, if they haven't already, Detroit really needs to take a closer look. After an off-year, Duds is back to sniper status from deep (42.4% on three attempts per game). He kills himself for every 50-50 ball, can play big minutes as a Stretch 4 or a Slow 3. Above all else, Detroit needs an identity, and a wily veteran that doubles as the consummate teammate goes a long way toward developing one. Off the court, he'll be a perfect medium for the Piston's younger guys to communicate their problems with SVG and the coaching staff. On the court, he'll bark and beg to guard the LeBrons and Durants of the league. That kind of fire goes a long way for a young team relying on internal growth to become a contender.
Why they shouldn't go for him: He's been bitten by the injury bug a few times, and groundbound 30 year old Stretch 4?'s don't usually have miraculous healing abilities. His back has been particularly problematic for him, and if he can't stay on the court his intangibles won't mean much.
The Verdict? At 12:01 AM on July 1st, when teams can officially start courting free agents, Stan Van Gundy should call Jaredy Dudley and beg for him to come to Detroit.? He addresses big on-court needs (great shooting, defense, feel for the game, can space the floor at the PF position), and evolves their team off the court. On top of all that, he's shown a willingness to take a pay-cut in order to help grow young teams with potential (see: Washington). He should be Detroit's first option this summer. Jared, if you're reading, at least take a meeting with Stan, please, we'd love to have you.
The mood around the Pistons is shockingly hopeful. For once, the downtrodden franchise is in pole position to improve on a rising roster. A huge part of that potential rests heavily on their ability to leverage the $14 million in cap space they're looking at this offseason. Will they try to catch one big fish? Someone like Ryan Anderson or Nic Batum? Or will they look for multiple smaller catches? Maybe a combination of Meyers Leonard and Jared Dudley? Either way, Detroit hopes to add to its roster. The only unacceptable option is to add nothing. A team built on Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, and Tobias Harris simply won't be enough to make a serious dent in the playoffs, which is why the Pistons are in such an interesting spot. Based on what happens this offseason, they'll either become an annual first round out or they'll put the entire league on championship notice.
Harrison Barnes -- won't be able to afford him, and he's a restricted free agent.
Evan Fournier -- spaces the floor, secondary playmaker, young.
Mirza Teletovic -- has had a resurgence in Phoenix, dead-eye shooter, solid defender.