Pistons Mailbag - February 12, 2020

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The trade deadline has come and gone and the Pistons, after trading Andre Drummond, have begun a rebuilding project. That dominates the conversation in this week’s edition of Pistons Mailbag, with mentions of Christian Wood, Thon Maker, Reggie Jackson, John Henson and the free-agent class for this summer.

Joe Marsiglia (@phys_ed_joe): Will the Pistons have enough cap room for a major free agent this summer or are they still a year out?

Langlois: They’ll have enough room to sign a player with less than 10 years of experience to a maximum contract. There are three different tiers of maximum contracts – the first for players with six years or less of NBA service, the second for players with seven to nine years of service and the third for players with 10 or more years of service. The starting salary is markedly different for all three tiers. For the 2020-21 season, the starting salaries for the three tiers have been estimated to be $28.7 million, $34.5 million and $40.2 million. The Pistons aren’t likely to have enough space to sign a player from the third tier, but should have enough for a player from either of the first two tiers. Realistically, it’s unlikely the Pistons are going to be signing a player of that caliber simply because there aren’t likely to be many players of that ilk on the market – and also because a team that’s undertaking a rebuilding project doesn’t often fish in that end of the lake. I would expect the Pistons will use their cap space either to sign multiple rotation-worthy players on short-term deals or to trade for players other teams are looking to move – possibly to clear cap space for other purposes – and picking up assets in the form of draft picks or cheap but promising young players.

Wyso (@detroit_wyso): Which of the following point guards are the most and least likely to be on the roster next season in your opinion: Reggie Jackson, Jordan Bone, Fred VanVleet or a 2020 rookie point guard?

Langlois: Bone is the likeliest. Would the Pistons love to have VanVleet? Probably. Dwane Casey obviously knows him well, trusted him with a significant role as a young player who joined the Toronto Raptors after going undrafted and helped develop him into a quality NBA starter. I’d be floored if he plays anywhere but Toronto next season. Other than Pascal Siakam, VanVleet is the most important player going forward for the Raptors, he’s won an NBA title there and it wouldn’t seem that either side would want to part ways. So I’d make VanVleet coming to the Pistons the least likely of your four options. I’d put a 2020 rookie as the second likeliest possibility. I’d guess a Reggie Jackson return is also unlikely given that the Pistons already have one veteran point guard, Derrick Rose, under contract for next season.

Shaun Murie (@greatmurbinski): If we were going to trade Andre Drummond to start the rebuild, why not others? Certainly there was a market for Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, Markieff Morris and others.

Langlois: The fact they weren’t traded suggests the market wasn’t bearing something valuable enough to execute the trades that might have been on the table. I wouldn’t assume there was a market for them. For all the hype the trade deadline generates, the percentage of trades that materialize is small. More than half the league made no moves at the deadline. There was a dampening effect this season given how many teams were over the salary cap and in many cases – the Pistons qualify here – in danger of incurring luxury taxes if trades involved taking on additional money of any significance. I don’t think it was for lack of interest in making the types of deals you advocate; there just wasn’t enough there to motivate a deal.

Lee (Los Angeles): Rumors point to the possibility that the Pistons might buy out Reggie Jackson’s contract. I see why Jackson might want a buyout to go and play with a contender, but what would the Pistons have to gain from a buyout? Wouldn’t they still have to pay Jackson’s contract?

Langlois: Jackson was asked about this after last week’s game at Oklahoma City and denied having discussed it with the front office. The Pistons are without Derrick Rose at this point – though, after missing the past five games, he’s listed probable to play tonight at Orlando – so it would seem unlikely that they’d want to leave themselves that thin at point guard. They’d have Bruce Brown and Brandon Knight. Knight has been injured – he played Monday, the first time he’d played since Jan. 14 with left knee soreness – and Jordan Bone is running up against his 45-day limit. He’ll need to spend much of the next six weeks with the Grand Rapids Drive as he did Tuesday night when he scored 25 points with seven assists to spearhead a Drive win. As for what the Pistons would gain by negotiating a buyout with any player – let’s set Jackson aside for the moment – they’d possibly save some money, which wouldn’t be significant and almost certainly wouldn’t be their motivation, and they would clear a roster spot. Why would the Pistons want to clear a roster spot at this point when the trade deadline has passed? Well, it could be that they would want to convert one of their two-way players to a standard contract. It could also be that they’d want to sign a player not currently under contract with another NBA team – say, perhaps, another G League player that they could sign to a multiyear deal, likely non-guaranteed after this season, to put another young player with potential in their pipeline. Because the Pistons are so close to the luxury tax – they got a little more of a cushion as a result of last week’s trade of Andre Drummond – it might be a long shot that they’d sign another player this season. But it does stand as a reason why they would be motivated to clear a roster spot if it came to that.

Gary Pikula (@GaryPikula): The 2020 draft and free-agent class is pretty weak. Is now really the best time to start a rebuild?

Langlois: This rebuild happened organically. Losing Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard for major chunks of the season and almost everybody else for significant stretches made the decision for the Pistons, effectively. It’s not like they’re deliberately trying to lose games. They’ve merely acknowledged that it’s in the best interests of the franchise to focus on the future over the present at this point, which represents a philosophical shift under Tom Gores’ ownership. When you say the free-agent class is weak, you’re really saying there’s an absence of high-end stars. But that’s not the type of free agent rebuilding teams are realistic candidates to sign in most cases. There’ll be about a third of the league hitting free agency. I suspect the quality of free-agent classes beyond the top 10 doesn’t vary much from summer to summer.

John Henson Fan Club (@JohnHensonFan): What are you thinking about a certain somebody?

Langlois: John Henson’s a solid pro. He’s had some injuries and the Pistons might be a little gun shy about that sort of thing after this season. But Christian Wood and Thon Maker – the two other players on the roster capable of playing center – will be free agents as well, so anything is possible. I’d expect the Pistons to seek clarity on Wood’s situation before any other moves for big men. If they can get him locked up, then moving on to a compatible backup would determine where Henson falls on their spectrum. He’s got 26 games left to leave an impression. So far, so good through two games.

Joseph (Manila, Philippines): I was not surprised that Andre Drummond was traded, but maybe the Pistons could have gotten more. Do you think Drummond was dealt at the last minute or there were not many teams interested in him? Do you think Cleveland will most likely deal Drummond next summer?

Langlois: If they could have gotten more, they would have. I don’t think it’s likely the Pistons hadn’t done their due diligence. Credible rumors that Drummond was available had surfaced well more than a month before the trade deadline. Ultimately, the Pistons were willing to take expiring contracts and a future second-round pick of marginal value, which says that their ultimate motivation was to eliminate the possibility of Drummond opting in to next year’s contract and effectively eliminating their cap space – and, thus, their ability to alter the roster and accelerate their rebuilding. As for what Cleveland has in mind, the ball remains in Drummond’s court. He can opt out and become an unrestricted free agent. Before this season, I was skeptical that he would pick up the option on 2020-21 because he’d be 26 with a nearly flawless injury history and players of that age with his record of durability almost always choose to hit free agency and lock in as many years and as many future dollars as possible. But circumstances now lead me to believe he’ll pick up the option. What circumstances? First, the diminishing value of centers, graphically illustrated by the fact that the Houston Rockets – who fancy themselves a legitimate NBA title contender – traded away their starting center, Clint Capela, and decided to field a starting lineup with P.J. Tucket, 6-foot-5, as a nominal center. Second, the fact Drummond stands to earn $29 million next season and probably can’t be certain that he’d get that much in his first two years combined on his next contract. I’d bet that Drummond’s fair-market value at this point is no more than $20 million annually and that might be a stretch. In that context – and, again, given his proven durability – it probably makes more sense for him to pocket the $29 million he’s guaranteed next season and hit free agency in 2021 when he’ll still be just 27 and more teams will have cap space.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): I don’t understand why there was no Pistons Mailbag last week on the day before the NBA trade deadline. How does the Pistons cap space look after the trade of Andre Drummond?

Langlois: I made an executive decision to postpone Mailbag last week because it seemed silly to post a bunch of questions and answers on the eve of the trade deadline that were about to be answered by … the trade deadline. I wasn’t sure anything I responded to wouldn’t have been rendered moot by reality five minutes after it posted. As for cap space – accounting for the likelihood of a lottery pick – the Pistons figure to be about $36 million under the cap.

Dirk (Kirksville, Mo.): How much of an influence does Tom Gores have on decisions regarding the composition of the roster? For instance, is there anything to the rumor that Stan Van Gundy wanted to trade Andre Drummond and was maybe nearing a deal but Gores blocked it?

Langlois: You can safely assume that Gores, like all NBA owners, weighs in on the most significant decisions. If you’re going to sign a free agent for multiple seasons or for more than a veteran’s minimum or a biannual exception, the owner will be apprised and given the right to veto the deal. The rumor you mention is news to me. I have no reason to believe Gores blocked any significant personnel moves made by any administration under his direction. But on the biggest decisions – the trade that brought Blake Griffin to the Pistons with four-plus seasons and about $150 million still owed him – sure, the owner will be brought into the loop. That only makes sense. It requires all parties to be on the same page when decisions that effectively shape the direction of the franchise for multiple years are on the table.

Meijer brand John Mulaney (@shmimoncarlson): Expected salary range for a Christian Wood extension?

Langlois: It won’t be an extension because he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, so he’ll be signing a new contract with somebody. The Pistons will have his early Bird rights, which gives them some advantage. (They can conduct other business, get up to the cap, then sign Bird to go over, for example.) Because so few teams will go into the summer with cap space, you’re going to see a lot of free agents jump on mid-level exception offers early in free agency, I would suspect. That would be a lot of money (estimated at $9.75 million) for Wood, but it only takes one team to prioritize him and make it happen. Ed Stefanski’s comments last week indicated the Pistons are still in evaluation mode on Wood. “His focus has to be on hoops. We want to take a longer look at him to decide what we want to do going forward, but he has talent and he is a nice young man.”

Ahmed (San Antonio): I watched the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics game last week and noticed the shot clock appears on the court. Do the players see how many seconds are left on the shot clock when it’s displayed on the floor or is that only for TV viewers?

Langlois: No, that’s just for viewers. It’s like the first-down line that appears on the TV screen in football games. It’s not really there.

J Roze (@Det2UP): Are there any updates of Khyri Thomas’ injury?

Langlois: He practiced on Tuesday. Dwane Casey anticipates that he’ll be available after the All-Star break. It’s a shame that Thomas hasn’t been healthy to take advantage of the opportunity available this season with so many other injuries. But he’ll have 25 games after the break to open eyes.

Jmo (@Jmo38639435): Do you think Thon Maker earned a spot on next year’s team and if so, for how much?

Langlois: Dwane Casey is an unabashed fan of Maker’s. He loves his motor and his selflessness. The fact Maker played on Monday night after getting three teeth dislodged on Saturday speaks volumes as to his earnestness. Casey said Maker will spend a lot of years in the NBA for what he’s put on video – never taking a possession off – and for the reputation he’s earned as a team-first player. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Maker and the Pistons come to terms on a fair deal for both sides, something in line with what a backup big man in today’s NBA should expect to earn.

Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois answers your questions about the Pistons and NBA. To have your question considered, submit it along with your name, email address and city/state using the form below.

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