The Pistons did well in the draft and because of their situation with the salary cap, they didn’t make any major moves in free agency. They did bring back some of their own free agents on better deals, and they solidified their core for next season.
Some of that promise was on display at Summer League over the past two weeks, including adding the No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cunningham. The Pistons also got a good look at Luka Garza, one of their three second-round picks, who impressed during the five games in Las Vegas.
With most of the roster returning from last season and the new additions, the roster looks to be mostly set, with training camp set to open next month. That doesn’t mean the Pistons won’t make some additional moves to tinker with the roster. They have a limit of 15 players on the main roster and a pair of players on two-way contracts, who will play in the G League and can practice and play a limited number of games with the Pistons.
The Pistons have 15 guaranteed contracts and signed both of their two-way contracts, so the roster looks to be full.
Here’s a look at the roster composition:
► Guards: Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Frank Jackson, Cory Joseph, Saben Lee, Rodney McGruder
► Forwards: Saddiq Bey, Sekou Doumbouya, Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson, Isaiah Livers, Trey Lyles
► Centers: Jahlil Okafor, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart
► Two-way contracts: Luka Garza, Chris Smith
The Pistons have six guards, six forwards and three centers, which allows some flexibility with the roster. Only six players are older than 25, and almost half of the 15-man roster is players who were drafted in the past three seasons, underlining the idea that the Pistons are in a roster restoration.
In terms of point guards, the depth chart would seem to be Hayes, Joseph and Lee, with some obvious crossover from Cunningham as needed. Shooting guards would be Cunningham, Frank Jackson and McGruder, with Josh Jackson likely sliding down to the backcourt in bigger lineups.
The forward spots are mostly interchangeable and notably, Stewart and Olynyk can play power forward in bigger lineups as well. It’s a very flexible roster with plenty of options to move players around to suit the playing style coach Dwane Casey chooses.
Based off his showing at Summer League, Garza could be a hidden gem, with his blend of outside shooting and rebounding skill. He was selected to the All-Summer League second team and he seems destined for at least a few games with the Pistons.
Smith is recovering from an ACL injury sustained during his senior season at UCLA in December, and it’s unclear whether he be cleared to return before the start of training camp. Likewise, Livers, who had foot surgery, has said he’ll be cleared to return in October.
According to spotrac.com, the Pistons are at $119 million in payroll applicable to the luxury tax, which puts them $17.6 million below the tax line. With cap holds, they are about $8.4 million over the salary cap of $112.4 million, so they’re in a comfortable position entering the season.
The Pistons still have to figure out the future for talented wing Hamidou Diallo, who is a restricted free agent. They extended a qualifying offer of $2.1 million and after trading for him at the deadline last season, they seemed inclined to bring Diallo back.
Diallo, 23, posted 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and shot a career-best 39% on 3-pointers in 20 games with the Pistons, including four starts. Given the current 15-man roster, the Pistons have Cunningham, Frank Jackson and McGruder as shooting guards and Bey, Josh Jackson and Isaiah Livers as wing options.
That logjam could mean there are more moves coming, if the Pistons are looking to retain Diallo. Logically, they wouldn’t have traded for him or made a qualifying offer if they didn’t have some interest in bringing him back. Diallo was in Las Vegas with some of his Pistons teammates during Summer League, so there doesn’t appear to be any acrimony between the two sides.
What’s more, if Diallo were looking for a bigger payday from another team, many of those teams with available cap space or roster spots have made other moves, so there aren’t a ton of options for him to go elsewhere for a salary higher than $10 million.
The Pistons could stand pat with the roster as it exists or if they make a move, they’d have to make a trade or waive a player to create a roster spot. A trade for future draft picks would seem more likely, because it wouldn’t involve the Pistons absorbing the salary through waiving a player on a guaranteed contract.
General manager Troy Weaver has shown in his time with the Pistons that he’s keen on making unusual moves to maneuver within the salary cap and free up space, if needed.
This year would be trickier. With all of the guaranteed contracts, the team could look to waive the lowest guaranteed contracts. If that were the path forward, there are a couple of players with one year remaining on their deals that would be the most logical from a financial standpoint: McGruder has $1.7 million guaranteed, Okafor $2.1 million and Lyles $2.5 million.
There’s no clear path toward creating an additional roster spot, but there are options if they choose.