Detroit Pistons’ NBA free agency moves: What they’re saying

Detroit Free Press

Marlowe Alter
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Pistons were the most active team in the first eight hours of NBA free agency, agreeing to deals with four players and swinging a trade.

New to the roster will be forward Jerami Grant (three years, $60 million), centers Mason Plumlee (three years, $25 million) and Jahlil Okafor (two years, $3.85 million) and wing Josh Jackson (two years). The Pistons also acquired guard Delon Wright in a three-team deal.

Let’s take a look around to see how writers are reacting to the moves of first-year general manager Troy Weaver and staff:

ANALYSIS: Sorting through Pistons’ wild and confusing Day 1 of free agency

ALERT: Pistons continue making trades, land Zhaire Smith from 76ers

Hollinger, formerly the Memphis Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball operations from 2012-19, did not like the Pistons’ moves. That’s putting it lightly.

The Grant deal is a maddening coda to a bizarre sequence of transactions. The Pistons could have kept rebuilding with (Christian) Wood and (Luke) Kennard, who are both two years younger than Grant, kept all their second-round picks and not had to eat *$20 million in stretched contracts of dead-money players. Detroit has no seconds until 2027 except two next year (from Toronto and the Lakers) likely to be at the end of the draft and a 2023 pick that is the lesser of Cleveland or Golden State. Instead, they’ve kept alive the spirit of Josh Smith by once again having half a decade worth of stretched money clotting their books, all so they could overpay a worse player than the one they let go and shell out $25 million for a backup center.” 

*(Editor’s note: It likely will be $14.3 million (Dewayne Dedmon), as the Pistons aren’t expected to waive and stretch Rodney McGruder after clearing money in the Trevor Ariza/Wright trade).

Hollinger called Plumlee “a halfway decent backup center” but said he “is not likely to be demonstrably better than recently acquired Tony Bradley or first-round draft pick Isaiah Stewart.”

He called the Plumlee deal “an early leader in the contest for the worst free-agent contract. The Pistons aren’t exactly in win-now mode. Where does paying a 30-year-old career backup fit into the plan here?

“Even supposing that the Pistons wanted a veteran center around, this isn’t even close to the best option available. Plumlee may not be any better than Isaiah Stewart, Tony Bradley, Dewayne Dedmon or Okafor — the other FOUR centers Detroit acquired in the past 72 hours (yes, really) — but signing him took the Pistons out of the mix for the many other players who might be.

“Had Detroit wanted a starting veteran center, the Pistons had $11.5 million in cap room – trumping any team with the mid-level exception. Even if they didn’t want to use it on Wood, that room is almost certainly enough money to put them in the mix for the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Montrezl Harrell, Jakob Poeltl, Derrick Favors or Serge Ibaka.”

He did like the Josh Jackson signing, writing “this is exactly the type of gamble a rebuilding team like the Pistons should be making instead of churning through backup centers.”

NEW ERA: After a prolific week, it’s clear Troy Weaver is shaping Pistons his way

Ward-Henninger did a winners/losers column, and pegged the Pistons a loser for compiling all the centers.

“They agreed with Jerami Grant on a three-year, $60 million deal with the promise of being more of an offensive focal point, while they could have instead retained Christian Wood, who agreed to sign with the Rockets for three years, $41 million. They also struck a deal with Josh Jackson, which isn’t a terrible move for a rebuilding team, but still adds to the weirdness. Overall it was a strange beginning to general manager Troy Weaver’s first offseason with the team. We shall have to wait and see if there is a method to Detroit’s madness.

Pelton graded the three-team trade that landed the Pistons guard Delon Wright, giving the Pistons a “B” and giving both Dallas and Oklahoma City a “B-plus.”

Here’s the deal:

Mavericks get: James Johnson.

Pistons get: Delon Wright.

Thunder get: Trevor Ariza, Justin Jackson, draft compensation from Pistons.

“Pending details on the pick compensation, this looks like Detroit’s most sensible deal of the day. There’s a role for Wright in the Pistons’ backcourt, where he can play alongside either Derrick Rose or No. 7 pick Killian Hayes in addition to giving Detroit another reliable option at point guard if Rose deals with injuries or Hayes isn’t ready yet for NBA competition. (It’s also insurance if the Pistons trade Rose before the deadline.)

“In a lead ballhandling role, Wright has proved quite valuable. In 13 starts during the 2018-19 season, primarily with the Memphis Grizzlies late in the season, Wright averaged 14.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He recorded three triple-doubles in the season’s final week. Wright’s remaining contract (two years, $17.5 million) is reasonable for a backup guard with the capability of starting.

“As a side benefit, Detroit also saves $3.8 million by turning Ariza’s contract into Wright’s. That might be just enough for the Pistons to make the two signings reported Friday (forward Jerami Grant and center Mason Plumlee) without needing to stretch the contracts of both Dewayne Dedmon and Rodney McGruder. Keeping McGruder’s salary off the books for the next five seasons would make those moves slightly more palatable.”

B/R’s staff has grades for each signing. They graded the Grant signing a “B-minus.”

“Grant isn’t your typical $20-million-per-year player, but that’s not an unreasonable price to pay for a 26-year-old wing who can switch across almost every position, runs the floor and has shot 39.1 percent from long distance over the past two seasons.

“It’ll be interesting to see what offensive role exactly Detroit promised him to gain the edge over Denver. He’ll be overstretched if he’s given license to create off the dribble. On the flip side, he’s never enjoyed that level of agency, so maybe he has other levels.

“The Pistons better hope so. They’ve not only committed quite a bit of money to him, but they’re fairly light on functional shooting after moving Luke Kennard to the Clippers and signing-and-trading Christian Wood to the Rockets. They need one of the youngsters to go off—namely Killian Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya—or for Grant to plumb untapped shot creation to even out the losses.”

On Plumlee, which they graded an “F.”

“We’re still awaiting word whether the Pistons made this move on purpose.

“Plumlee is a quality big man. He hits the glass on both sides of the floor, can finish strongly on rolls to the basket and remains an underrated passer. …

“Adding another center isn’t absurd. It also shouldn’t be costing more than $8 million per year on average. And if it does, he should be more matchup-proof on defense. It’d be different if the Pistons view him as their starting center. That’s problematic in itself if they do.

“A 30-year-old Plumlee doesn’t fit the tenor of a rebuilding squad with veteran bigs already in place, and this signing will look much worse if it contributes in any way to Christian Wood landing somewhere else.”

They liked the Jackson move, grading it a “B-plus.”

“Failing a smack-you-in-the-face price point, there’s nothing to dislike about this marriage. The Pistons need capable wings even after signing Jerami Grant, and Jackson, while still a project, made strides at both ends last season.

“Most of his bright spots came on the Memphis Hustle, the Grizzlies’ G League affiliate, with whom he averaged over 20 points and four assists per game while splashing in 38.2 percent of his threes. That shooting didn’t carry over to the parent club—he canned just 31.9 percent of his triples at the NBA level—but he looked more under control when working off the dribble and, equally if not more paramount, was far more disciplined on the defensive end, including off the ball.” 

They didn’t like the Okafor move, giving it a “D.”

“The sheer low-risk nature of signing Okafor spares Detroit from the absolute lowest grade. He shouldn’t earn enough money or command enough minutes to materially impact what the team is doing. But it says a whole lot when that’s the silver lining.”

Smith, based in Detroit and primarily covers the Pistons, graded the Grant move a “B-minus.”

“Grant fills a position of need on this roster, but there are plenty of positions of need. He’s also getting paid a big number to do it, relative to what can be expected from his production. If there’s one thing that Pistons fans can look to for some comfort, it’s the fact that the Nuggets, a remarkably savvy organization, were looking to present him the same contract and were disappointed when he left.” 

On Plumlee, which he graded an “F.”

“At this point the Pistons have roughly 1/4 of all the centers in the NBA after signing Mason Plumlee to a three-year, $25 million contract. Perhaps new Pistons general manager Troy Weaver is prepared for the next revolution in ultra-modern NBA basketball by stocking up on anybody and everybody over the height of 6’10”.

“Plumlee’s signing comes on the heels of a curious trade to acquire Dewayne Dedmon on Thursday in exchange for Tony Snell and Khyri Thomas. Not that those players are particularly essential to anything any team is trying to do, but going out of your way to sign Mason Plumlee (on purpose!) just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“The Pistons should expect to be bad next season, no doubt about it, so it probably doesn’t really matter that much what they do in free agency this season, but a three-year deal for Plumlee is confusing. Why tie up longer-term salary than is necessary? Do they really think they need to outbid other teams with dollars AND years?

“I don’t know, maybe this will make sense as time goes on, or maybe this is just one of the most mind-boggling moves the Pistons have made in a long time. At this point, we can only give this signing one grade.

He gave the Okafor move an “F” as well.

“Have you ever felt as though you were being trolled before? To the point where you have almost no doubt that somebody is indeed preying upon your own dislikes for their entertainment? I no longer have any doubt: The Pistons are trolling me with the signing of Jahlil Okafor. 

“Andre Drummond was traded to open up cap space, and the Pistons have swiftly burned every bit of it on flotsam centers. Not even just a bunch of flotsam players, but specifically center. It’s like signing available free agents on NBA 2k when you don’t realize you’ve got the “Centers” filter selected and all other positions de-selected.

“Anyway, don’t ask me what’s going on, but whatever it is I hate it.”

On Jackson, which he gave a “C-plus.”

“The Pistons just realized their filter was set for “Center” and unclicked it, opening them up to a world of players who play other positions.

“Jackson has had a troubled career and has struggled to stay out of trouble throughout his time in the NBA, so time will tell if he’s able to do that in his hometown of Detroit. In the meantime, it’s interesting to see the Pistons diversify their positional profile for a change.”

Follow Marlowe Alter on Twitter: @Marlowe Alter

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