After going all-in with the Blake Griffin trade and missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy was removed from his duties, along with general manager Jeff Bower. As of this writing, those spots are still vacant, though the Pistons have brought in a number of consultants to oversee the hiring process and appear close to a deal with former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey to take the same position in Detroit. Once owner Tom Gores and special consultant Ed Stefanski get their executives and coaches in order, the upcoming offseason will keep their front office very busy. For a team with $106.6 million in guaranteed money on the roster, Detroit still has a long laundry list of decisions to make, from their three incumbent free agents to three non-guaranteed contracts for next season, as well as potential luxury tax concerns weighed against building around Griffin and center Andre Drummond.
The Pistons will begin the summer with just $5.2 million separating them from the $123 million luxury tax line, thanks in part to the $5.3 million they’re still giving to Josh Smith through 2020. As such, they’ll have their full mid-level exception available but will not be allowed to use the bi-annual exception, as they used it last summer to sign Anthony Tolliver to a one-year deal. Tolliver will be a free agent this summer along with James Ennis, who was picked up mid-season from Memphis, and Jameer Nelson, who signed late in the season and was decidedly unimpressive in his short stint in Detroit.
Both Tolliver and Ennis had very good years off the bench for the Pistons and the team would be well served to bring both back at a salary that is commensurate with their production. Tolliver had the best offensive year of his ten-year career with Detroit despite the turmoil surrounding the rest of the roster. Even at 33, Tolliver’s production offensively merits him a spot in an NBA rotation; 44 percent shooting on 4.6 three-point attempts per game is nothing to sneeze at. His time in Detroit saw his efficiency drop off a bit, but Ennis can still fill the 3-and-D role every team needs off the bench. He’s not a starting-caliber player at this point in his career but would be well worth keeping around on the right contract.
Of their three non-guaranteed contracts for 2018-19, only Dwight Buycks stands out as an obvious cut candidate. Detroit got an absolute bargain on the Reggie Bullock signing for two years and $5 million; he might be their best wing player on the roster. Eric Moreland showed enough to warrant a spot in an NBA rotation, though it may not be in Detroit with the amount of big men they have ahead of him on the depth chart. Still, two years at the minimum with both years non-guaranteed should warrant some amount of trade value for Moreland, who has a unique skill set among backup centers and deserves a consistent shot at bench minutes.
Assuming they dump Buycks’ $1.5 million for next season, that gives them a bit more wiggle room under the tax. It remains to be seen whether the new front office will be allowed to spend through the tax line in order to capitalize on their two stars or if Gores will set a hard cap at $123 million in order to keep their cash outflow under control. Given the Pistons’ moves over the past few years, it would seem to indicate that a potential luxury tax burden does not scare them; you don’t make a blockbuster trade for Griffin nor sign Van Gundy for $7 million a year if you’re pinching pennies on your basketball team. The Pistons do have a couple of ways to add external talent to their roster despite being out this year’s first-round pick: they’ll have some version of the mid-level exception (depending on their other moves, it’ll either be the full mid-level or the mini mid-level) and retain a $7 million traded player exception (TPE) stemming from moving Boban Marjanovic as part of the Griffin deal, which they can use to acquire another player already under contract up to that amount. They only have Non-Bird Rights on Tolliver and given his performance last season, he may require more than the $3.9 million they can pay him under the Non-Bird Exception. They can dip into their mid-level or mini mid-level to bring him back, however. In Ennis’s case, they have Early Bird Rights, which will allow them to bring him back at pretty much any number he could reasonably command on the market.
Further down the line this summer, extension negotiations with Stanley Johnson will be open through October. Johnson was a starter for Detroit throughout much of the 2017-18 season but lacks the consistency to be an average starter-level player on a good team. Having drafted and developed him, Van Gundy was married to Johnson in a way that the new regime will not be and this fact makes it more unlikely that they’ll come to an extension agreement before he hits restricted free agency in 2019. Johnson is exactly the type of player whom front offices need to see prove it on the court before they commit long-term—picking up his play on both ends of the court as a spot-up shooter and primary defensive stopper would go a long way toward a lucrative new deal next summer, but it’s far from a certainty that the 22-year-old will be able to put it together in time for his next contract.
Once Detroit gets their front office and coaching staff installed, they’ll be put to work immediately building out the rest of the team and developing the young players currently on the roster. Johnson, Henry “I was taken two spots before Caris LeVert” Ellenson, and Luke “I was taken one spot before Donovan Mitchell” Kennard are all flawed but growing players who, with the right coaching, can overcome some early-career foibles to turn into respectable rotation players. If Casey is the man for the job in Detroit, his track record with developing the fantastic bench unit in Toronto bodes well for the Pistons’ future. For the front office, this offseason is all about building around Griffin and Drummond to give the team the best chance to compete immediately—any signings or trades made will be to service this goal with veteran role players who can play off those two offensively and defend the perimeter on the other end.
30 Teams in 30 Days takes you through every team’s thinking heading into the offseason, from evaluating their own personnel to dealing with their cap situation. This is the seventh installment, covering the Detroit Pistons. You can find Detroit’s full cap sheet here.