The Detroit Pistons will have money to spend this offseason.
They will have between $25 and roughly $30 million in salary cap space, depending on where their lottery pick falls and which team options on player contracts they pick up. They will be a major player in free agency, and have several avenues to create as much room as they need.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a great summer to have cap space. There are some big names on the market, such as Zach Lavine, James Harden or Kyrie Irving. But Harden and Irving have player options, and Lavine, an unrestricted free agent, could be offered a five-year deal worth more than $210 million by his current team, the Chicago Bulls.
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Detroit has never been a market to attract superstars. Harden ($47 million player option for next season) and Irving ($36.5 million) have little incentive to leave their respective teams. Beyond the superstar tier, there aren’t many mid-level stars worthy of pursuing.
But the Pistons have several needs to address, and there are attainable and talented players in the market. They could spend most of their money on one player, or divide their resources across several players to plug multiple holes. Either way, there will be new faces on the roster next season.
Detroit’s biggest needs can be boiled down to ball-handling, outside shooting and rim protection. Here are two free agents who would address each need:
Jalen Brunson, G, Dallas
2021-22 stats: 16.3 points, 4.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 50.2% overall shooting, 37.3% from 3
Offseason rumors have oft-cited the Pistons as a likely suitor for the 6-foot-1 point guard, and the Free Press can confirm that Brunson is high on their wish list. Brunson is coming off of the best season of his career and has emerged as an all-around efficient scoring threat. He has thrived alongside Luka Doncic, and is due for a significant pay raise. A 2018 second-round pick, Brunson has earned around $6 million thus far. The first year of his new deal could triple that number, if not quadruple.
The Pistons are committed to pairing Cade Cunningham with another ball-handler, and Brunson checks many of the boxes you’d want in a Cunningham running-mate. Brunson is a career 37.3% 3-point shooter and can space the floor when the ball is in Cunningham’s hands. When Cunningham is on the bench, Brunson can thrive as a primary option. A calf strain caused Doncic to miss the Mavericks’ first three playoff games during their Round 1 series against the Utah Jazz last month. Brunson scored 41 points and 31 points in Games 2 and 3, respectively, as the Mavs won both games.
Brunson’s next deal would likely take up most, if not nearly all, of Detroit’s available cap space. The Pistons are limited to offering Brunson a four-year deal, but Dallas has his Bird rights, which means the Mavs can offer five years and it won’t cripple their cap space. Brunson is in a winning situation and has established himself as a core piece. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but he has strong incentive to stay put.
Tyus Jones, G, Memphis
2021-22 stats: 8.7 points, 4.4 assists, 45.1% shooting, 39% from 3
Jones’ numbers may not leap off of the page, but he has thrived as the primary backup for Ja Morant and is one of the steadiest point guards in the league. His points per game and 3-point percentages are career-best marks. He turned the ball over on just 6.5% of his possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass — one of the lowest rates in the NBA. He has never averaged a full turnover a game and averaged 0.6 last season.
Malik Monk, G, LA Lakers
2021-22 stats: 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 47.3% shooting, 39.1% from 3
His career was on a downswing before signing with the Lakers last summer, but Monk proved himself as one of Los Angeles’ most important rotation players. His 13.8 points per game were a career high, and he knocked down 39% from 3 after knocking down close to 40% his previous season. He also played a career-best 76 games, after being limited to 42 in 2020-21 and 55 the season prior to that. Monk would give Detroit’s backcourt an adrenaline shot of floor-spacing and athleticism — two attributes it lacks.
Gary Harris, G, Orlando
2021-22 stats: 11.1 points, 43.4% shooting, 38.4% from 3
Michigan State basketball fans would remember Harris as the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-Big Ten selection in 2014. He has battled injuries throughout his career, but he’s a reliable shooter and defender and is coming off of one of his most efficient seasons as a scorer.
Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix
2021-22 stats: 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 63.4% shooting
Ayton will enter restricted free agency this summer, meaning the Suns can retain him by matching any outside offer. That makes him a longshot to become a Piston, but they should still try. He’s the best center prospect on the market by a significant margin and a core piece of a 64-win Suns team that might be the championship favorite right now. He’s a versatile defender with excellent touch around the rim and would substantially raise Detroit’s floor and ceiling next season.
Mitchell Robinson, C, New York
2021-22 stats: 8.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
Marvin Bagley III’s arrival at the trade deadline highlighted the value of having an athletic lob threat. Robinson is that, but he’s also a gifted shot-blocker. He was sixth among players in shots blocked per game last season and he would give Detroit’s frontcourt an athleticism jolt.
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