Detroit Pistons the rare team with cap space to strike in NBA free agency, trade market

Detroit Free Press

NBA salary cap expert, free agency and trade prognosticator and contributor Keith Smith joined “The Pistons Pulse” podcast this week to discuss the Detroit Pistons’ offseason outlook.

It’s another pivotal offseason for the Pistons, who have the No. 5 overall pick in the June 22 draft, and roughly $30 million in cap space available to improve the roster after a 17-win season. The Pistons could also pay a few of their own players, as 2020 draftees Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman will all be eligible for rookie contract extensions.

Smith, who also hosts the Front Office Show podcast, views the Pistons as one of seven teams this season who will have financial flexibility and can be a big player in both the free agency and trade markets. Here’s some of what he had to say on the Free Press’ podcast.

Listen to “The Pistons Pulse” for his full thoughts, which include draft talk, and how the team will be affected by the new collective bargaining agreement.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks hold trade appeal

The Pistons have two sweet-shooting veterans who should hold appeal around the NBA.

Bogdanovic, fresh off one of his best offensive seasons, signed a two-year, $39.1 million contract extension in October that’s guaranteed for just $2 million in 2024-25.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons extend Burks’ contract this summer, but his expiring contract could also be used to sweeten a trade, after he shot 41.4% from 3 last season.

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The Pistons opted to keep both players through the February trade deadline, but teams will call about their availability this summer. Smith noted the Pistons could include one of their four bigs — Stewart, Wiseman, Marvin Bagley III or Jalen Duren — in a deal since it’s a position of strength.

“The Pistons are also in a spot where it’s not like they’re trying to fill out 12 roster spots,” Smith said. “They’re in a spot where you can use that $30 million in space to do some stuff and have a couple of veterans in Bogdanovic and Burks that will have trade value this summer. If they did decide, ‘Hey, we didn’t trade them at the deadline but there’s a move that’s too good to pass up now,’ they can go.

“You’ve got some positional surplus at the big spots. You could move on from somebody there, especially if we don’t know where Isaiah Stewart is going but we don’t feel great about extending him, maybe you can move on from him while he’s still a positive-value player before he’s on his next contract. There’s a lot of flexibility and it’s never a bad thing to have that flexibility, as long as you can use it in a good way.”

Several free agency targets to watch

The 2023 free agency class is light on superstar talent, but there are several players who would address the Pistons’ 3-and-D needs.

Jerami Grant, who played for the Pistons for two seasons before being traded to Portland last June, might top the list. He’s coming off a career-best offensive season, averaging 20.5 points on 47.5% overall shooting and a career-high 40.1% from 3. He thrived as a complementary option alongside Damian Lillard, after carrying a heavy offensive load in Detroit. He’s entering unrestricted free agency after completing the three-year, $60 million contract he signed in 2020 with the Pistons.

Grant, 29, could return to Portland, or, go elsewhere. Smith doesn’t see Detroit as a likely landing spot, though.

What we saw with Jerami Grant in Portland was the return of his efficiency,” Smith said. “It came back up because there weren’t so many off-the-dribble, contested jumpers that he was having to create late in the clock.

“That’s good. He’s a very moldable, adaptable player. He can fit into whatever you need him to morph him into. He can play both the 3 and the 4. For me, it’s been there, done that. That’s not the direction I would go in (for the Pistons).”

The Pistons could also be in the mix for two restricted free agents — Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams and Brooklyn Nets forward Cameron Johnson.

Williams, 24, is a versatile defender who can play small-ball center in certain lineups, and shot 39.5% from 3 this past season.

Johnson, 27, is a strong shooter, knocking down 39.3% of his 3-pointers in his career, and brings some verve defensively as well.

Because their respective teams will have the right to match any offer in free agency to keep them, Smith thinks the Pistons will likely have to offer most, if not all, of their cap space to acquire them. He sees Johnson as a more natural fit, as Williams’ best position is power forward and the Pistons are deeper at that position.

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“The ability to bang bodies isn’t as big out on the perimeter, that’s where he’s really good,” Smith said of Williams. “He’s really good at being that lane defender where he gets up underneath guys like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. He’s had a lot of success against those guys, which sounds weird because he’s like 6-6, 6-7. But that’s what he does really well.”

“The guy can play the 2, 3 or 4 depending on what the rest of your lineup looks like,” Smith said of Johnson. “He’s a knockdown shooter. I thought he showed more in the last year off the dribble ability than he had in previous years, and that was both in expansion of his role before he got hurt with the Suns. And then just letting him do more once he gets on the Nets, it was really him and Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie, you guys have to create everything here. We don’t have a lot here. He really shined there. But that’s the challenge, you’re going to have to make the offer so big that the Nets blink. That’s all of your cap space if you’re Detroit.”

Restricted free agency could be best outcome for 2020 class

For Hayes, Stewart and Wiseman, the Pistons can opt to extend them this summer or let them enter restricted free agency in 2024, where the market could set their price.

Smith isn’t sold on the idea of extending any, but Stewart is the most proven and intriguing of the three. He’s a versatile defender and strong rebounder, but shot just 32.7% from 3 in his first season incorporating the shot in his daily arsenal. Smith raised doubts about Stewart’s long-term upside as a shooter, and believes the Pistons are better off being patient with paying him.

“Isaiah Stewart’s the tough one, man, because I feel like every good team has an Isaiah Stewart where it’s just, dude plays with a ton of energy and he’s gonna hit the boards and he’s gonna do a lot of stuff and he’s really gonna get in there and toss dudes around and make things happen and play super physical with that,” Smith said. “Whether it was him or the team, I did not like the whole, let’s try to shoot more 3s. I thought that went too far last year for him.

“I don’t know. I worry about that with him, and then that becomes, how much are you paying an energy big? What’s our number? For him, it’s probably going to a spot where it becomes, we’re just going to let him play it out, too, and if you come back and play well, we’ve got restricted free agency to fall into it with that.”

Smith’s thoughts on Hayes and Wiseman are less complicated — let them enter restricted free agency next year.

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“I’ll start with the easiest one in that group, and it’s Killian Hayes,” he said. “He hasn’t done enough for me to extend him, it would have to be so team-friendly that it doesn’t even make sense for him because that turns into, I’d rather bet that it all comes together for me in Year 4.

“Wiseman, it’s easier where it’s just, let’s let the year play out because we’ve got like 24 games I think he played for the Pistons last year. They were pretty good, at times. I think we’re seeing the dude just needed to play without, ‘I had a turnover and I’m looking over at the bench wondering if I’m coming right out of the game.’ We’ve seen Monty Williams do pretty good with bigs in the past. Got a lot out of Deandre Ayton, so I think he can get a good amount out of James Wiseman. I’m a fan.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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