In November, just ahead of the start of free agency last season, the Pistons had their version of “The Purge,” when general manager Troy Weaver remade the roster within a few days, with the draft and the start of free agency. It was a striking turnover, with about half of the roster different from the previous season.
The upheaval continued through the season, with the final pieces, including Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, going to new teams.
The start of free agency this season wasn’t quite as extreme, but the Pistons were active in the opening minutes of Monday’s free-for-all, they added some needed help at center agreeing to a three-year deal worth $37 million with Kelly Olynyk, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News.
The move addresses a glaring need on the roster, because the Pistons traded last season’s starting center, Mason Plumlee, to the Charlotte Hornets ahead of the draft on Thursday.
Olynyk, 30, could be a short-term solution for the Pistons’ issues, and he brings 3-point shooting that could help the offense improve significantly, with a better perimeter shooter. Olynyk averaged 19 points last season in 27 games with the Houston Rockets, after he was traded from the Miami Heat at the deadline.
Olynyk started his career with the Boston Celtics for four seasons before going to the Heat for three-plus seasons. He is coming off his best season, posting career highs of 13.5 points and seven rebounds.
It was just the first move in what looks to be some roster tinkering to reshape the look and style of the roster. The Pistons added Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and with a couple more expected moves in free agency, they will be positioned to improve on last season’s dismal 20-52 mark.
The Pistons won’t have as much activity as last year, but they have some work to do to round out the roster. With four draft picks from last year and the addition of four more in last week’s draft, the Pistons have a foundation for Weaver’s roster restoration, but they have made some moves that could position them to be better positioned in free agency.
By trading Plumlee, they eliminated the remaining $16.7 million on his deal, including $8.1 million next season. On Saturday, they waived Cory Joseph, Tyler Cook and Deividas Sirvydis, opening a few more roster spots and absorbing the $2.4 million that Joseph had guaranteed for next year, plus the $1.5 million that Sirvydis was guaranteed.
They also extended qualifying offers to Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Saben Lee, making each of them a restricted free agent. With that move, the Pistons can match any offer sheet that another team offers.
In the draft, the Pistons also selected forward Isaiah Livers and centers Luka Garza and Balsa Kiprovica in the second round. It’s not clear if any of those players are slated for the main roster, or if they will be on a two-way contract or start the season in the G League with the Motor City Cruise.
The Pistons entered free agency with about $16.7 million in cap space to utilize, in what isn’t an ideal group of free agents. They won’t be in line to bid for any of the elite players such as Chris Paul or Kawhi Leonard, but they can be in position to look at some mid-level players who could make an impact.
Here’s a rough look at the roster construction after the Olynyk deal:
► Guards: Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Hamidou Diallo, Saben Lee, Frank Jackson and Rodney McGruder
► Forwards: Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson and Sekou Doumbouya
► Centers: Isaiah Stewart, Olynyk and Jahlil Okafor
With that breakdown, the roster looks like it could use a few more veterans. Adding another point guard – maybe Joseph, for a lower salary – could be in the cards, and they likely would want another combo forward and a backup center. That would bring the roster to 15.
In a practical sense, the Pistons have a lot of directions they can go with the roster. Only last year’s rookies, plus Grant, Josh Jackson, Doumbouya and Okafor are technically under contract.
There’s no guarantee that other teams won’t make moves to offer the restricted free agents more money. If another team offers Diallo something north of $12 million, would the Pistons be willing to match that? What’s the upper limit for Frank Jackson, who showed that he can be an asset from beyond the 3-point line?
The cap holds for those players aren’t really big enough to make a difference, so in all likelihood, the Pistons would be able to match those without a problem. In McGruder’s case, his salary of $5 million isn’t guaranteed until Aug. 15, so they could decide that they want to use that on a potential upgrade.