Stay or go? A look at Pistons’ free agents and what could happen

Detroit News

In November, general manager Troy Weaver had a week for the ages when he revamped the Pistons roster with a robust draft haul, a flurry of trades and some other moves in free agency. When the smoke cleared, the roster looked much different and Weaver had made the first big steps in his restoration plan.

This summer will provide another opportunity to make some moves, though likely not as many as last year. The Pistons could have about half of their roster be free agents, depending on team options and other potential cost-cutting moves.

The Pistons are in a youth movement, but that doesn’t mean they’re just going to send all their veterans packing. Weaver hinted at his season-ending press conference that there wouldn’t be much movement with free agents, as they valued their experience and contributions this year.

“I don’t anticipate having too many roster spots available. We like our group and we’re excited about guys under contract and even our own free agents,” Weaver said. “I don’t anticipate much turnover at all. I would say maybe one or two additions from the outside, but the answers for the Pistons moving forward are all in-house.”

Here’s a look at some of the players who could be free agents and what could happen:

Cory Joseph

He has $12.6 million left on the final year of his contract, but only $2.4 million is guaranteed and the remaining $10.2 million kicks in if he’s still on the roster after Aug. 1. This might be the toughest decision the Pistons have to make because Joseph was very productive in his 19 games: 12 points, 5.5 assists and 37% shooting on 3-pointers.

For many fans and observers, the initial thought at the time of the trade was that the Pistons would eat the guaranteed money and move on in free agency. But with the fit that Joseph had as a veteran in his short stint, it takes more thought. Killian Hayes needs more time to develop, and Joseph could be starting point guard next season and play big minutes if needed.

A lot could depend on the draft and whether the Pistons get another point guard such as Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs. That might make Joseph more expendable, but they’ll likely give it some thought.

► Prediction: Returning

Hamidou Diallo

After the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder brought Diallo, an athletic wing, there was some question about how he’d fit with Josh Jackson already on the roster. It doesn’t hurt to have several bites at the apple to find the right player. Diallo is just 22 years old and a restricted free agent with three years’ experience; he could be a big asset to help the rookie core adjust.

“It’s a young group that he fits and we need his talents, and if he can continue to buy into coach (Dwane) Casey’s system -— which he did — and I thought he got pretty comfortable toward the end,” Weaver said. “He could have a very bright future here in Detroit.”

That sounds like a healthy endorsement for bringing Diallo back, if the price is right. It might be a healthy increase to about $10 million per season or more, which seems reasonable. The qualifying offer is just $2.1 million.

► Prediction: Returning

Frank Jackson

There might not be a Pistons player who changed his outlook more significantly during this season than Jackson. He latched on with a two-way contract and he far outpaced any reasonable expectations, with career bests of 9.8 points and 41% on 3-pointers. He proved that he can be a scoring sparkplug off the bench and can be solid on the defensive end.

Jackson will be a restricted free agent because of his two-way status, but he almost certainly will get an offer for a standard from the Pistons and other teams, maybe at about $5 million per season. He’s just 23 years old, and he seems to fit with the direction everything is going.

► Prediction: Returning

Saben Lee

The Pistons’ other two-way contract will be a restricted free agent and played well beyond his status as a second-round pick. Lee is included in Weaver’s “Core Four” rookies, so it’s quite unlikely that he will be going anywhere. He played in 48 games and though he wasn’t a big scoring threat, he developed into a good facilitator and finished with good numbers: 5.6 points, 3.6 assists and 35% shooting from beyond the arc.

Depending on their first-round draft pick this year, Lee could see similar minutes next year or have a big chunk of them come in the G League. Either way, he seems to be a future asset and part of the rebuild.

Prediction: Returning

Tyler Cook

After playing on a couple of 10-day contracts, Cook signed on for the remainder of the season for the minimum and also got a nonguaranteed deal for next year for $1.7 million, which will become guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after Aug. 8. Cook became a major reserve piece late in the season and showed that he’s versatile enough to play either forward spot and even small-ball center if needed.

For a minimum salary, this is the type of player the Pistons should be trying to find. He’s a hard worker and can play good spurts of minutes without hurting the team on either end of the court.

► Prediction: Returning

Wayne Ellington

One of the recurring themes this season was how the young players needed veteran leadership, and Ellington was a good model for shooters like Saddiq Bey and Frank Jackson to follow. Ellington was the last player signed in free agency and he outperformed his contract. Weaver said he wanted to have veterans as the backbone of the roster, and if Ellington doesn’t get a better offer for a winning team, the Pistons would love to have him back.

► Prediction: Possibly returning, depending on free agency

Rodney McGruder

Acquired in the flurry of trades, McGruder was a good addition, though he was only needed in 16 games. McGruder’s final year of his contract for $5 million becomes guaranteed if he’s on the roster after July 14. Like Ellington, McGruder provides veteran leadership and can be a nice scorer when needed. Although $5 million is a bigger chunk, the Pistons likely won’t need that cap space unless they plan to make other moves.

► Prediction: Possibly returning, depending on free agency

Dennis Smith Jr.

The Pistons wanted to take a look at Smith, who arrived in the trade with the Knicks for Derrick Rose. There’s a logjam at point guard with Hayes, Lee and possibly Joseph returning, so it’s unlikely the Pistons will keep Smith too. He played just 20 games and didn’t play after April 10 because of injuries. The Pistons would need to make a qualifying offer of $7 million, which doesn’t seem likely.

► Prediction: Not returning

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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