Drummond’s team-first decision to delay contract talks gives Pistons a major boost for their future

The relationship that Pistons owner Tom Gores began cultivating almost immediately upon the drafting of Andre Drummond in June 2012 has paid a massive dividend. Drummond, at 22 a franchise cornerstone, has decided to push back contract talks until next summer rather than signing an extension before the Nov. 2 deadline. The payoff for the Pistons: nearly $13 million in additional cap space next summer.

Drummond and Gores met on Sept. 27 at the owner’s Detroit-area home – two days before training camp opened – and had a lengthy conversation where he laid out the pros and cons. At the heart of it, he wanted to make sure Drummond was comfortable with delaying negotiations rather than locking up a guaranteed salary for the next five seasons now.

“It’s between Tom and I, those discussions,” Drummond said. “They don’t really need to be discussed openly. We both have an understanding of what’s best for the team.”

“When you go around and talk to players, every player says, ‘I’m all about winning,’ ” Van Gundy said. “But this is a guy who’s proving that he’s all about winning. This guy’s doing that to create the flexibility so that we can add to the roster significantly next summer. From my standpoint, you can’t say enough about his commitment to the franchise, his commitment to winning and his leadership. He’s got great faith in his ability and in the organization and the direction we’re headed. We’re all on the same page. We want to win, we want him here long term and he wants to be here long term.”

Drummond’s decision means the Pistons will have about $12.7 million more to take into free agency next July 1, Van Gundy said. The figure for Drummond that will go on the Pistons cap sheet will be about $8.2 million – his cap hold – rather than what his first-year salary according to the terms of the extension would have been. A maximum contract for the 2016-17 season for a player of Drummond’s experience is expected to be nearly $21 million, though the exact figure is to be determined when the league’s financial data is completed in early July.

To be clear: The contract the Pistons are prepared to offer Drummond next summer will still compensate him at the same level he’d have guaranteed by signing an extension before Nov. 2. The decision to delay talks, though, means the Pistons cannot – by collective bargaining rules – guarantee that contract for Drummond until next July. Thus the importance of his relationship with and trust in Gores.

“Andre realized – he had several conversations with Tom – that our best chance to build a contender was to have the additional cap-space flexibility, next year. As much as Andre wants to be here, he desperately wants to win and wants to be part of a contender and so wants us to have the flexibility to continue to add people. He’s got a great relationship with Tom – a very open, honest, trusting relationship. Andre is a leader here of what we think, and he thinks, is a good core of young players. The opportunity to add to that, I think, really swayed his decision.”

“I’m content with what we have,” Drummond said. “I think we’ll be a great team.”

Van Gundy ticked off five players, 26 or younger, the Pistons have the opportunity to retain over many seasons: Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris. Drummond and Caldwell-Pope are 22, Johnson 19.

“And now the flexibility to add to that is pretty exciting,” he said.

Because the salary cap is expected to spike to around $90 million, up from $70 million this season, many teams will have significant cap space next summer. The Pistons, with minor maneuvering, can create enough space to sign a player to a maximum contract and then go over the cap to retain Drummond. Van Gundy wouldn’t rule out that avenue, but made clear there are far more options that will be available to – and likelier to be navigated by – the Pistons.

“Everybody always thinks in terms of the cap space as just we go out and sign a free agent, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be just one guy,” he said. “That could be money that goes into two guys who are significant players who can help. That cap space opens you up in the trade market. You don’t have to send out equal money or anywhere near it. There’s a lot of ways that cap space helps you. For Andre to look at it at 22 years old and come to that kind of mature and team-oriented decision speaks volumes.”

  • Another bit of upbeat news: Steve Blake, out since suffering a Sept. 30 concussion, participated in Tuesday’s practice. He didn’t do contact drills, but the expectation – barring any setbacks – is that he’ll practice Thursday and play some in Friday’s preseason finale.
  • Van Gundy said he wasn’t certain who would start in Wednesday’s game with Charlotte at The Palace, but it was likely – not certain, but likely – that whichever players were in the starting lineup would be the starting five for next Tuesday’s regular-season opener at Atlanta.