The peak of free agency has ebbed and the Pistons roster is full – though not necessarily complete. Lots to chew on in this week’s Pistons Mailbag …
Tom (Huntington Valley, Pa.): Do we have the money or interest in acquiring Joe Johnson? He would be a great addition as far as I can see?
Langlois: Joe Johnson is on the books for $24.9 million for 2015-16. If the Pistons had done nothing else – let Greg Monroe go, not trade for Ersan Ilyasova or Marcus Morris or signed Aron Baynes in free agency – they could have squeezed in Johnson. Of course, they would have only Anthony Tolliver as a power forward and no backup center. But they would have had a Johnson & Johnson combination at small forward, which would have been fun. So, short answer: I don’t know about interest, but certainly not cap space unless they send back about $20 million in contracts. Is that possible without gutting the roster? It would almost have to start with Brandon Jennings and his $8.3 million. You could possibly make it work, but here’s the thing: The only reason Brooklyn was interested in doing a deal for Johnson was to save tax money. The waiving of Deron Williams after a buyout logically reduces even that motivation. Monday’s trade that brought in Steve Blake for Quincy Miller – and your question came in before that deal – further reduces Brooklyn’s urgency to move money off its cap. Taking back an equal amount of money doesn’t do anything for the Nets. It’s why the rumored deal with Cleveland that arose before the move with Williams that included Brendan Haywood��s non-guaranteed contract held appeal – the Nets could have waived Haywood and immediately realized whopping payroll and tax benefits. The Pistons don’t have any substantial non-guaranteed deals to offer. They already played that card when they shipped Caron Butler and Shawne Williams to Milwaukee for Ersan Ilyasova. Miller’s was the last such trade chip.
Isaac (Irvine, Calif.): In regards to filling out the Pistons roster, let me know where I have it right or wrong. The Pistons have 16 players, including a second-round pick and Quincy Miller they can cut and not have to pay. They also have three guys that maybe one or two of them could get cut but get paid (Bullock, Granger and Martin). The Pistons need to cut one but might want to cut two so they can add Joel Anthony or another backup center, correct? Also, what are the cutoff dates for cuts?
Langlois: Teams can carry 20 players in the off-season but need to be at 15 by the time the regular season starts, Isaac. They’re at 17 guaranteed contracts once agreements are formalized with Reggie Jackson and Joel Anthony. (I wrote more about the roster setup earlier this week.) The opportunity cost for acquiring Marcus Morris for nothing more than a No. 2 pick five years down the road was to take on the salaries of Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock, as well. Granger’s health makes him an obvious candidate to be waived, though Stan Van Gundy said it wasn’t a foregone conclusion they would. Bullock, though, could play his way onto the roster in training camp. He’s two years removed from being a No. 1 pick and has NBA size and 3-point shooting potential, so he could get a long look. I know he was a guy a lot of teams liked coming out of college. He hasn’t shown much in the NBA yet, but he really hasn’t been in a situation to do so very often, either. The Pistons also are very high on Darrun Hilliard, their second-round pick. It’s tough to keep four shooting guards, but Bullock’s ability to play small forward – he’s a legit 6-foot-7 as measured at the 2013 NBA draft combine – makes it a more realistic option. Monday’s swap of Quincy Miller to Brooklyn for Steve Blake exchanged a non-guaranteed contract for a guaranteed one. They also are bringing D-League star Adonis Thomas to camp, though not on a guaranteed deal. They don’t have to make any decisions today and are unlikely to make them until they must. Trades are possible between now and training camp, perhaps a two-for-one deal that naturally eases the crunch. If not, there could be stiff competition for the last two roster spots among Bullock, Hilliard and Martin with Granger a possibility if he’s still around.
Clark (Santa Cruz, Calif.): If SVG decides that he likes Reggie Bullock and wants to keep him around as a potential “3 and D” guy, could we still send Darrun Hilliard overseas and keep his draft rights?
Langlois: In theory, yes on Hilliard. But it’s probably not something you’d do without the player being open to such an arrangement. Teams often exercise draft picks on second-rounders with that intent, but it’s almost always known to the player at the time. Teams can’t choose a player in the second round and never make him a contract offer – essentially, freezing him out of the NBA. They have to offer a deal in the two weeks prior to Sept. 5, but the offer doesn’t have to include guaranteed money. The player has until Oct. 15 to sign – or not – the tender. In practice, players drafted where Hilliard was taken, the 38th pick, usually get two years guaranteed at the league minimum with a third-year team option. That’s what Spencer Dinwiddie got last year taken in the same spot. That’s what Khris Middleton got after being drafted 39th three years ago. Kim English, taken five spots after Middleton, got one year guaranteed with a team option (eventually declined) for the second year. One other thing to keep in mind on Hilliard, a question I’ve gotten from others. They can’t “stash” him in the D-League, either. If he is offered a contract by the Pistons and signs it, he counts toward the 15-man roster whether he’s in Detroit or Grand Rapids.
Donovan (Oak Park, Mich.): I have Reggie Jackson ranked as one of the top three point guards in the Eastern Conference. Do you think he will make the All-Star team this year?
Langlois: Just a little early for All-Star questions, don’t you think? Look, we all know that All-Star berths are almost exclusively reserved for players from winning teams. Fans vote in the starters, which means you can probably reserve one spot now for Dwyane Wade. When the coaches fill out the bench, they’ll have plenty of Eastern Conference point guards to look at, including Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jeff Teague, Michael Carter-Williams and Goran Dragic. I don’t know where Jackson ranks on that list, but I know this: The Pistons now go into every game feeling they can at least hold their own at the position even in an era of the greatest point guard depth the league has ever known.
Joe (Shalimar, Fla.): With the league forcing teams to wait until July 9 to make deals official, would it be possible for teams to get cold feet and decide to not make a deal already agreed to? The Suns were positioning themselves for more cap space, but if they can’t spend the money couldn’t they decide not to do the deal or make a different deal? I think the Kings should pull back their deal with the Sixers or the league should step in to stop it.
Langlois: Well, it’s possible for players to get cold feet, as Twitter documented thoroughly last week while the DeAndre Jordan saga played out. Beyond that, not sure why the league would intercede in a deal made by consenting teams, Joe. (Yes, the league rescinded the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers deal. But the league owned the New Orleans franchise at the time.) In theory, yes, a team could renege on a deal agreed to during the moratorium period. But it would make that franchise a pariah and greatly inhibit its ability to make future deals. Indeed, the ramifications for teams for having a change of heart would be disastrous. The ramifications for Jordan are mostly a little embarrassment. Teams might agree to deals conditionally, as in, “If we successfully sign Free Agent A, then we will agree to ship you Player X for Player Y or Player X for Draft Pick Y.” But there is no indication either Phoenix or Sacramento entered into the trades you referenced conditionally. Phoenix obviously dealt Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Pistons to clear cap space to add LaMarcus Aldridge to Tyson Chandler. The Suns had a logjam on the wings with P.J. Tucker and promising second-year player T.J. Warren in the mix at small forward with Morris. So it’s a deal the Suns could afford from a personnel standpoint, but there’s no question that the return – nothing more than a second-round pick five years down the road – shows the degree of urgency Phoenix felt to get the deal done immediately. Teams surely would have been willing to part with more, given a less compressed negotiation process, for a player who as recently as last season was a sometimes starter and is still just 25.
Charles (Kansas City): Any thoughts on whether or not the way SVG handled the Monroe situation is responsible, at least partly, for the Pistons being unable to sign any of their primary free-agent targets? I’m hoping that one day Drummond doesn’t decide to jump ship because Pistons management seems too inclined to pursue second-tier or backup free agents. I’m praying for the Pistons to show improvement next season with this new crop of free agents, but I’m wondering about Van Gundy’s eye for talent and the ability to recruit quality players.
Langlois: The window for getting Monroe to extend his rookie deal opened many months before Van Gundy was even part of Pistons management, Charles, in the summer of 2013. If there was ever a single turning point as to Monroe’s fate, that was it. When his side didn’t get an extension offer they deemed appropriate, all signs indicate that they were determined at that point to get to unrestricted free agency. Monroe playing last year on a qualifying offer, as has been documented, was a rare step. As for their inability to land – your words – “any of their primary free-agent targets,” well, let’s assume that Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll were, indeed, the two unrestricted free agents Stan Van Gundy indicated the Pistons were targeting. One took perhaps a below-market deal to stay with the team where he’s won rings and is positioned to challenge for more, so it’s silly to look for any reasons he didn’t come to Detroit. Danny Green’s free agency had nothing to do with Detroit or anywhere else but San Antonio. As for Carroll, my guess would be that once he got a $60 million offer from Toronto, the Pistons – and everybody else – were effectively out of the running. Toronto undoubtedly made an offer it knew was going to top what other teams were willing to pay. Carroll is an easy guy to like, but let’s keep his value in perspective. He was a wonderful fit in Atlanta but undeniably the No. 5 option on offense, which means the Hawks almost certainly never ran plays for him. It’s easy to see why the Pistons might have been interested in him – good size for his position, a tough defender and a good 3-point shooter. But at what price? Even with the cap going up, $15 million is a lot of cash for a role player – a fine one, yes, but a guy who arguably lacks one elite skill or who has the ball in his hands much. Again, I’d chalk that one up to any number of reasons besides lack of desire to play for Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons.
Charles (St. Igance, Mich.): Any concern about Spencer Dinwiddie’s play in Summer League?
Langlois: My conclusion after watching too many Summer League games to remember is that it’s a very tough environment for point guards, Charles. Not only is it difficult to achieve anything close to cohesion on the offensive end when players get thrown together and learn each other’s tendencies and preferences in the matter of a few practices, but the task is further complicated by the defensive tenacity brought by deep benches filled with a bunch of hungry players who know that one way to catch the eye of NBA scouts – or those from the many international leagues who attend Summer League games – is to hound the ball. That’s a big part of what many teams are looking for in No. 3 point guards – the type of job that most Summer League invitees are auditioning to get. Stan Van Gundy is going to put a lot more weight on what he saw of Dinwiddie when the Pistons used him in real NBA games last year. It wasn’t all great – he shot 18 percent from the 3-point line, foremost – but Dinwiddie led all rookies in assists-to-turnovers ratio and displayed confidence and poise in some pretty big moments. I’ve seen point guards with more experience and loftier expectations than Dinwiddie struggle in Summer League.
Bob (Reno, Nevada): Two large mistakes made within days – passing on Winslow and then not offering Monroe five years. I feel these moves put the Pistons in the lottery for years. How soon do you feel the Pistons could honestly make the playoffs?
Langlois: We have zero evidence yet that taking Stanley Johnson over Justise Winslow was a mistake, Bob. Winslow might prove the better player eventually, just as Johnson might. But I’d be surprised if we have anything in the way of a conclusion on that until they’re both on second contracts and have established their niche in the NBA. Summer League, where Johnson arguably played as well as anyone and better than all rookies in Orlando, suggests both are very good prospects. As for not offering Monroe five years, I think it’s fair to guess that Stan Van Gundy and David Falk/Monroe batted around every conceivable proposal starting last July. The two sides didn’t formally negotiate at all this July. Monroe’s interview with a New Orleans newspaper days before free agency indicated he was focused on other options. The fact he signed a three-year deal that gives him the option to become a free agent again in just two years tells me a five-year offer wasn’t going to move the talks along, regardless.