Last summer, Troy Weaver took over a Detroit Pistons team in need of an overhaul. He embraced the challenge, leveraging future assets and around $30 million in cap space to transform the roster and bring in a promising core of players to build around.
A year later, the franchise is banking on Jerami Grant, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee and the rest of the young core’s continued development to make a playoff push next season. Whoever they select with the No. 1 pick during Thursday’s draft will boost that push. The team isn’t expected to have much, if any, cap space. For now, the bulk of their roster-building is done.
“I don’t anticipate having too many roster spots available,” Weaver said during his end-of-season news conference in May. “We like our group and are excited about the guys that are under contract and even our own free agents. I don’t anticipate much turnover at all. I would say maybe one or two additions from the outside. The answers for the Pistons moving forward are all in-house. This is about internal development and growth, and that will be our focus this summer.”
With free agency starting Aug. 2, four days after the draft, it’s almost time for the Pistons to begin the second phase of their rebuild. As Weaver alluded to, the lack of roster spots will impact how the team proceeds. There are nine players on guaranteed contracts through next season, three players on partial- or non-guaranteed deals, five free agents and four draft picks.
Here are the biggest questions as we approach the busiest part of the offseason.
Will Pistons have any cap space?
The “TL;DR” answer is no: The Pistons will operate as an above-the-cap team if they enter Aug. 2 with their current roster intact. If so, they will have access to the standard mid-level exception ($9.5 million), and their bi-annual exception ($3.7 million).
Currently, the Pistons have roughly $88.2 million in guaranteed money on the books. $54.5 million is from the nine players on guaranteed contracts, and $33.7 million is in dead money, with nearly $30 million owed to Blake Griffin accounting for most of that.
Add a combined $16.9 million in non-guaranteed money from Cory Joseph (who only has $2.4 million of his $12.6 million for next season guaranteed), Rodney McGruder ($5 million non-guaranteed) and Tyler Cook ($1.7 million non-guaranteed), and it pushes the Pistons to $105.1 million in salary. The No. 1 pick’s rookie-scale contract will start around $10 million, which will lift the Pistons’ salary total to $115.1 million.
They will be over the cap, projected at $112.4 million. If they wish, they can create some cap room by parting ways with Joseph, McGruder and Cook.
How many open roster spots will they have?
Grant, Bey, Stewart, Hayes, Mason Plumlee, Josh Jackson, Jahlil Okafor, Deividas Sirvydis and Sekou Doumbouya are all guaranteed through next season. The top pick will add an additional guaranteed contract. That leaves five roster spots for three partially or non-guaranteed players, five pending free agents (restricted: Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee, Dennis Smith Jr.; unrestricted: Wayne Ellington) potentially three second-round picks and any outside additions in free agency.
Right now, the Pistons, functionally, don’t have any open roster spots. The Pistons are unlikely to bring back all of their free agents and use three second-rounders on players who will sign immediately. Detroit will be able to sign two players to two-way contracts, alleviating some of the roster crunch. They could pick a draft-and-stash international player. They could also look to consolidate the three picks by trading into the first round (though that would add a guaranteed roster spot).
What will happen with Joseph, McGruder and Cook?
After arriving in Detroit from the Sacramento Kings ahead of the trade deadline, Joseph played some of the best basketball of his career. Through 19 games, he averaged 12 points, 5.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and shot 50.6% overall and 36.8% from 3. He also became a mentor for the young players, particularly to Hayes.
Joseph would add veteran stability to a young backcourt, and his $12.6 million expiring contract could be an enticing trade chip at the deadline. But the Pistons stand to save more than $10 million by parting with him, and they can look for cheaper veteran help on the market. They will need to make a decision on him before free agency begins.
McGruder played spot minutes as a backup guard last season, and had some strong performances. But if the Pistons wish to create roster space, they can easily part with his non-guaranteed $5 million.
The team has to make a decision on Cook by Aug. 10. He’s eligible to sign a two-way contract.
Which free agents will return?
Diallo, Lee and Jackson appear to be the three most-likely players to re-sign. Diallo, acquired ahead of the trade deadline, showcased his potential as an athletic two-way wing by knocking down 39% of his 3-pointers and handling difficult defensive assignments. Weaver identified him as a player the team wants to build around, and he appears to be a priority.
Lee and Jackson, last season’s two-way players, both cracked the rotation by midseason. Lee is considered to be in the Pistons’ “Core Four” with the rest of the 2020 draft class, and Jackson emerged as one of the best shooters on the roster by hitting 40.7% of his 3s.
Ellington was Detroit’s best shooter last season, but the veteran will ultimately choose his next destination. Smith missed most of the final two months of the season due to injuries and plays point guard — a position of strength for the Pistons. It’s tough to see him returning.