Before Pistons dip toe into free agency, they’ll make the call on a number of their own
The blaring horn signaling the end of team camp Oct. 2 at the Pistons Performance Center sent those who’d taken part in the nearly three-week experience scattering. How many of them are back whenever the modified NBA calendar calls for training camp to open remains to be determined.
And while new general manager Troy Weaver and his inner circle, Dwane Casey included, strategize about the draft, free agency and trade options between now and then, they won’t be doing it in a vacuum. Part of the calculation will depend on choices they make with those players already here under some degree of team control.
Here’s a look at the 17 players who are either under contract with the Pistons or ended the 2019-20 season on the roster and are now on the cusp of restricted or unrestricted free agency.
GROUP I – Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya
Snell has a player option that he is widely expected to pick up to return at $12.1 million. The Bucks sent the 30th pick of the 2019 draft to the Pistons with the expectation Snell would opt in, a likelihood that became a near certainty with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic depressing the free-agent market. Rose would be among the Pistons’ most attractive trade chips, but Weaver and Casey want to field a competitive team and value the leadership Rose’s relentless drive engenders.
Ditto for Griffin, who’d be a more problematic trade chip given the size of his contract. He’s the safest bet of anyone to be in a Pistons uniform on opening night. Kennard, like Rose, is the subject of frequent trade rumors – a reflection of his ability relative to his contract. Teams like good players on friendly terms, though Kennard’s value is complicated by the fact he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal and can become a restricted free agent after the 2021 season if not signed to an extension before then. Doumbouya’s unrealized potential makes him more valuable to the Pistons than trade partners at present.
GROUP II – Svi Mykhailiuk, Bruce Brown, Khyri Thomas, Justin Patton
Brown and Thomas, 2018 draft choices of the Pistons, have non-guaranteed contracts for next season and Mykhailiuk, a 2018 Lakers draft choice acquired at the 2019 trade deadline, has a team option. Brown’s deal will be guaranteed and Mykhailiuk’s option picked up, almost assuredly. By all accounts, Thomas – hampered by injuries over his first two seasons – helped his cause with a strong team camp showing. If it was 50-50 before camp, it’s tipped to his favor. Patton, also beset by injuries (including three foot surgeries) since being the 16th pick in 2017, has a non-guaranteed deal, as well, and missed the second phase of team camp with a broken finger. He’s expected at training camp, at least.
GROUP III – Christian Wood, Langston Galloway, John Henson, Brandon Knight, Jordan McRae
All five are unrestricted free agents with the Pistons holding full Bird rights on Galloway, Henson and Knight and early Bird rights on Wood and McRae. The Pistons will almost surely renounce their rights on Henson and Knight and be unburdened of their massive cap holds, though that wouldn’t preclude them from signing either with cap space.
Galloway is a favorite of Casey’s for his selflessness and 3-point mentality, arguing for his return. But the Pistons have depth at his position and might value the roster spot and flexibility more. This one could go either way and how soft the market is will factor into the outcome.
The Wood situation will involve perhaps the most significant decision of the off-season. Early Bird rights give the Pistons the ammunition to offer Wood an exception to the cap – meaning they can commit all of their anticipated $30 million in space, using only Wood’s $1.7 million cap hold against that amount – and then re-sign Wood to a contract with a first-year salary equal to the 2019-20 season’s average NBA deal, or roughly $10 million. That’s more than the mid-level exception, which was established at $9.7 million when the cap was pegged at $115 million but will very likely be less now.
Since few teams will have more than the MLE as the bait, the Pistons could gamble that Wood won’t get an offer for more than $10 million a year from the handful of teams who could make such a bid, commit their cap space to other moves and then sign Wood for all or part of the early Bird exception. That would be their ideal circumstance, one that seems likelier in the current climate than it did last March when Wood established new career scoring highs (29, 30, 32) three times in his last four games.
GROUP IV – Thon Maker, Jordan Bone, Louis King
Bone and King, coming off rookie seasons on two-way contracts, are restricted free agents. Both, according to Casey, were impressive in team camp. The Pistons could sign them to standard contracts or attempt to re-sign them on two-way deals. Weaver surely had dossiers on each player during their college careers from his time as an Oklahoma City executive, but he got a more recent and complete look at them during team camp and his impressions will go a long way toward determining their fate.
The Pistons would need to extend a qualifying offer to Maker, entering his fifth season, of nearly $5 million to make him a restricted free agent. It’s unlikely they will make that offer, which means Maker would become an unrestricted free agent. The Pistons could sign him for less than that, if the two sides had mutual interest.