The Detroit Pistons could be one of the few big players in a tight free agency market this summer, but the franchise first has a number of big decisions to make this offseason.
Four upcoming verdicts stand out above the rest: trade, keep or extend Jerami Grant; who to select with a top-seven pick in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft; finding common ground on a new contract for Marvin Bagley III; and, finally, who will they identify as their top targets with cap space (and will they be able to pry one away)?
It all starts with how they proceed on Grant, as that decision will affect their draft plan and free agency process, and it all will be complicated by where they pick in the draft.
The Pistons just completed their worst three-season run since 1981, and have an NBA record 14-game postseason losing streak, dating to 2008. Yet the future of the franchise is brimming with hope and excitement due to young talent, draft and free agency capital, roster flexibility and a front office that has made several good-looking moves on the margins and with big swings.
Next season’s goal should be to compete for a berth in the play-in tournament, which includes teams ranked 7-10 in the conference. Remember, Cade Cunningham will be just 21 years old and entering his second season, so building around him and on his timeline is more important than winning a few more games. Taking shortcuts to win quicker usually leads to a derailed plan and future pain, and often ends up hamstringing a franchise for years (see the Pistons’ trade for Griffin, Blake).
“I try to stay principled in making sure we’re building a sustainable model,” general manager Troy Weaver said last week, as his “restoring” enters Year 3. “We don’t want to appear, we want to arrive. We’ll take a little long in some people’s minds, but not in ours. We’re building the right way, and we have a chance this summer to be aggressive in some other areas where we haven’t been in the past.”
Our annual Pistons cheat sheet is here to set the table for the offseason.
Dates to know: NBA draft lottery May 17 in Chicago; NBA draft June 23 in Brooklyn.
Pistons 2022 draft picks: First round: Guaranteed to be no worse than seventh. Second round: No. 46 (from Brooklyn; Sekou Doumbouya-DeAndre Jordan trade in 2021). Pistons owe their second-rounder, No. 33 overall, to Toronto (Jameer Nelson trade in 2018).
Lottery odds: Own No. 3 slot entering lottery, with a 40.1% chance at a top-three pick and 52.1% chance to get in the top four. Pistons’ odds at each pick.
No. 1: 14%
No. 2: 13.4%
No. 3: 12.7%
No. 4: 12%
No. 5: 14.8%
No. 6: 26%
No. 7: 7%
Top 5 draft prospects: PF/C Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga), PF Jabari Smith Jr. (Auburn), PF Paolo Banchero (Duke), G Jaden Ivey (Purdue), PF Keegan Murray (Iowa). Read about how each player would fit with the Pistons.
OUR MOCK DRAFT 1.0: Pistons are big winners in this scenario
Free agency and the salary cap
Dates to know: Free agency negotiation period opens June 30 at 6 p.m.; restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet July 1; trades and free agency signings become official July 6 at 12:01 p.m.; Las Vegas Summer League July 7-17.
Top NBA free agents: Zach LaVine, James Harden (player option), Kyrie Irving (player option), Bradley Beal (player option), Deandre Ayton (restricted), Miles Bridges (restricted).
Pistons free agents: Marvin Bagley III (restricted; $7.2 million qualifying offer, $28.3 million cap hold), Rodney McGruder.
Player options: Cory Joseph ($5.2 million).
Pistons team options: Hamidou Diallo ($5.2 million), Frank Jackson ($3.2 million), Carsen Edwards ($1.8 million, remains non-guaranteed even if exercised), Luka Garza ($1.6 million).
Pistons expiring contracts: Jerami Grant ($21 million), Kelly Olynyk (12.8 million; $3 million partial guarantee in 2023-24).
Dead money: $11.8 million — DeAndre Jordan (buyout), $7.8 million; Dewayne Dedmon (waived and stretched), $2.9 million; Zhaire Smith (waived and stretched), $1.1 million.
NBA salary cap, luxury tax: The salary cap is expected to be $121 million, an increase of $9 million from 2021-22. The luxury tax threshold is projected for $147 million.
Pistons salary cap situation: They have $59.9 million in guaranteed salary for next season with eight players under contract, a draft-pick cap hold of $7.9 million — if they stay at No. 3 in the draft — and $9.9 million in team-friendly options (Diallo, Jackson, Garza). Add that to the $11.8 million in dead cap and they’re around $90 million — if Joseph declines his option. This suggests the Pistons could have $30 million in cap space.
The Pistons are currently over the cap with Bagley’s gigantic cap hold due to his draft position — No. 2 in 2018 — but will dip below it when they either negotiate a new deal, as expected, or release his rights. He is projected to make around $10 million, which would lower the Pistons’ cap space to about $20 million.
Only five teams are projected to have significant cap space this offseason: Orlando, Detroit, San Antonio, Indiana and Portland.
The Pistons could create more space by trading Grant for players with lesser salary or they could be granted ample space by dealing him in exchange for draft capital from the Blazers, for example, who could use their $21 million trade exception from the CJ McCollum deal <raises eyebrows again>.
Room exception: Available to teams under the cap who use their space. Once they’ve used all cap room, they are granted this version of the mid-level exception. It is worth two years and $10.9 million total. Pistons are expected to have access to this.
Deadlines: June 28: Pistons must decide whether to pick up options on Diallo, Jackson and Garza.
June 28: Joseph’s deadline to make a decision on his player option.
June 29: Pistons’ deadline to extend Bagley his qualifying offer and make him a restricted free agent.
June 29: Pistons must decide whether to tender Jamorko Pickett — he’s on a two-way contract — a qualifying offer; Pistons must decide whether to pick up Edwards’ option.
What to watch
Grant is eligible for a four-year, $112 million contract extension in the offseason, but the Pistons will likely entertain offers leading up to the draft. Portland has been mentioned among those interested and has a lottery pick.
If the Pistons end up with a top-three pick, where each of the top three prospects’ best position might be power forward, Grant’s future will get even cloudier and a trade would make even more sense.
Bagley showed he’s worth a longer look, at a reasonable cost, after the Pistons dealt two future second-round picks at the trade deadline to acquire him. He has had positive things to say about his two months in Detroit, and the Pistons seem pleased with what he brought to the court. An agreement looks far more likely than not. But any deal will eat into the Pistons’ cap space, so if they have their eyes set on a bigger target — ahem, Jalen Brunson — it will be interesting to see what number they have in mind for Bagley, and what else they do to create the space they need.
Diallo and Jackson both bring unique skills to the team — Diallo’s athleticism, Jackson as a 3-point threat — and both will be 24 next season. Each is on a reasonable salary, but if the Pistons think they’ll need a little extra space, they could move on from either.
Garza, who will turn 24 in December, played in 32 games, earning 389 total minutes (12.2 per game). He needs the Pistons to believe he can be a third center to justify a roster spot.
THE GRANT DECISION: Why Pistons may be content to, once again, pass on trading Jerami Grant
Needs and fits
The Pistons’ biggest needs are scoring, good 3-point shooting and frontcourt athleticism.
A dream scenario might be Ayton, but the Phoenix Suns could be coming off a championship run, and their ability to match any offer makes him leaving highly unlikely.
Three more realistic free agents who could address the Pistons’ weaknesses:
• Marvin Bagley III, PF/C, 24 years old, 6-11, 235 (stats in 18 games with Pistons): 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 55.5% shooting, 22.9% on 3s (1.9 attempts). Brought an element the team was missing and that Weaver chided himself for not filling the roster hole earlier. “I didn’t give coach enough tools and the Bagley trade was a big tool for us,” Weaver said last week. “We didn’t have enough athleticism up front. We needed to address that, and we did. I feel better for the team that we were able to acquire that young man and give us a tool we didn’t have.” Look for both parties to lock in a new deal before, or at the start, of free agency, setting the Pistons up with the cap space to pursue a starting guard.
• Jalen Brunson (unrestricted), PG/SG, 26 years old, 6 feet 1, 190 pounds (stats in 79 games with Mavericks): 16.3 points, 4.8 assists, 50.2% shooting, 37.3% on 3-pointers (3.2 attempts). Another Villanova bulldog who can play on or off the ball and create his own shot and play-make for others. Unorthodox scorer who is excellent inside the arc, making 54.4% of his 2s for his career, with most of it coming outside the restricted area in both “floater” range and midrange. Accurate 3-point shooter for his career (37.3%) but would like to see the volume increase (four attempts per 36 minutes over 277 games). Short stature but isn’t a sieve on defense.
• Gary Harris (unrestricted), SG, 28 years old, 6-4, 210 (stats in 61 games with Magic): 11.1 points, 43.4% shooting, 38.4% on 3s (five attempts). Formerly a key piece of the Nuggets before injuries and offensive game took a step backward. Michigan State product is a prototypical 3-and-D wing, though a touch undersized to guard bigger wings, who found his 3-point stroke this season after three years of shooting below league average (36.3% for his career). Will likely be pursued by teams in the playoff hunt, but maybe playing alongside an up-and-coming All-Star in Cunningham and spending two years at MSU gives the Pistons hope of reeling him in if he is a target.
*Age as of Dec. 31, 2022
Future draft picks
• 2023 first-round pick to Oklahoma City (protected 1-18 in 2023 and 2024, 1-13 in 2025, 1-11 in 2026 and 1-9 in 2027; if pick has still not conveyed, Pistons will send 2027 second-round pick).
• 2023 second-rounder to New York.
• 2024 second-rounder to New York.
• 2025 second-rounder to Portland.
• 2026 second-rounder to Orlando.
• 2024 second-rounder from Washington or Memphis (more favorable).
• 2025 second-rounder from Golden State or Washington (more favorable).
• 2027 second-rounder from Brooklyn.
*Sources used in this report: Spotrac, ESPN, HoopsRumors, Basketball Reference, RealGM
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