The biggest move of Thursday night’s NBA draft for the Detroit Pistons was selecting Cade Cunningham with the first pick. The second biggest move might’ve been a trade they executed 40 minutes before the draft, moving Mason Plumlee and the 37th pick to the Charlotte Hornets for the 57th pick.
On paper, the move might’ve been a head-scratcher. Plumlee was a starter and one of Detroit’s best players last season, averaging 10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and nearly a block per game. But it was a financial move, as the Pistons wanted to move his $8.1 million owed next season off the books. They moved down 20 spots in the second round to do so.
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The trade signaled the Pistons wished to enter free agency with cap space. After a series of moves, they will.
Here’s a look at their salary cap flexibility, and needs they could address in free agency.
Cap and roster situation
General manager Troy Weaver parted with Cory Joseph (who had $2.4 of his $12.6 million guaranteed for next season) and Tyler Cook on Saturday, clearing an additional $12.1 million off next year’s cap sheet. They can clear an additional $5 million by waiving Rodney McGruder, whose contract is non-guaranteed for next season.
Detroit also waived 2019 second-round draft pick Deividas Sirvydis, whose $1.5 million will remain on next year’s salary sheet. The Pistons can enter free agency, which begins Monday at 6 p.m., with nearly $17 million in space if they move on from McGruder. They will also have the room exception ($4.9 million starting salary, $10 million total up to two years) and bi-annual exception ($3.7 million starting salary, up to two years) to offer.
The Pistons extended qualifying offers on three restricted free agents — Frank Jackson, Saben Lee and Hamidou Diallo — opening the door for them to return next season. Including their restricted free agents, all seven guaranteed players and all four draft picks, the Pistons have 14 players on the roster. They can create additional roster spots by converting one of the second-round picks to a two-way contract and by making additional moves, but as of now, they have at least one roster spot to fill.
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After moving Plumlee, the Pistons have a clear need for a big man. The trade opens up additional playing time for Isaiah Stewart, who is ready for a bigger role after a strong rookie season. But their backup center is Jahlil Okafor, who lost his job as the backup center to Stewart before missing most of the season with a knee injury. Detroit selected two centers at the end of the second round in Luka Garza and Balsa Koprivica, but it’s never realistic to expect second-round picks to immediately crack the rotation.
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The Pistons were a below-average 3-point shooting team last season, ranking 22nd in percentage (35.1%) and 21st in attempts (32.9 per game). Their best shooter, Wayne Ellington, is an unrestricted free agent. Jackson, who was second on the team in 3-point percentage, is a restricted free agent. The team wants to see Killian Hayes, Stewart and other returning players improve their shooting next season, but they will likely need help from the outside to make meaningful strides forward in this area.
Experience at point guard
The Pistons had $10.2 million reasons to part with Joseph, but he had a tangible impact on last year’s team. Coach Dwane Casey didn’t hesitate to put the ball in his hands after he was acquired midseason, and he played well on both ends and provided stability to a young point guard rotation. That rotation will still be very inexperienced next season, as Hayes, Cunningham and Lee have played a combined 74 NBA games. Detroit can find a cheaper option than Joseph on the market.
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.