Pistons jump start off-season by trading for Snell, pocketing extra picks

Tony Snell could slot in as the starting small forward for the Pistons, who also picked up a first-round pick from Milwaukee in their draft eve deal.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons didn’t wait for free agency or the draft to cross off one of their two most pressing off-season needs – and they picked up four second-round picks in the process.

The cost for shedding the final year of Jon Leuer’s contract in a deal with Milwaukee, made official after the completion of Thursday night’s first round, was taking on one extra season of Tony Snell’s contract – but that’s not exactly a sacrifice when Snell fits what the Pistons need so precisely.

If the Pistons had written a job description to fill the role Snell assumes, it would read a lot like Snell’s ID card: 6-foot-7¼ with a 6-foot-11½ wingspan as measured at the 2013 NBA draft combine and a career 38 percent shooter who takes the majority of his shots – 57 percent for his career – from the 3-point arc. Snell is both the bigger wing the Pistons went into the off-season hoping to land and the type of floor-spacing shooter needed to bring Dwane Casey’s offense to life.

Snell could well be the starting small forward next season, giving the Pistons enough 3-point shooting in the starting lineup to allow Casey two luxuries: Bruce Brown remaining as a starter though not necessarily playing starter’s minutes, providing a first-rate defender and giving Reggie Jackson more favorable defensive matchups; and Luke Kennard continuing to come off the bench where he’ll have the ball in his hands more than he would in lineups with Jackson and Blake Griffin.

Picking up Milwaukee’s first-round pick, No. 30, gave the Pistons better odds to accomplish something front-office boss Ed Stefanski referenced several times earlier this week – improving depth. When Cleveland offered four second-round picks to take the last pick of the first round, the bounty multiplied. The Pistons used two of them – plus their own second-round pick at 45 – to trade back up to 37 with Dallas, which selected 19-year-old Deividas Sirvydis of Lithuana. They can’t officially announce that deal until July 6, the start of the new league year.

Combined with last year’s three rookies – Brown, Khyri Thomas and Svi Mykhailiuk – plus Kennard and Thon Maker, the Pistons by adding Doumbouya will have six players next season on rookie contracts, building a foundation that enables future cap flexibility.

Some of next summer’s projected cap space disappears given Snell’s contract, which calls for him to make $11.4 million next season and $12.2 million in 2020-21. With Snell earning about $1.9 million more than Jon Leuer’s approximate $9.5 million deal next season the Pistons will have to be prudent with their use of the mid-level and biannual exceptions to stay under the luxury tax line.

But that isn’t a disincentive when the contract being taken on belongs to a player who so clearly fills a roster void as Snell does for the Pistons. The Pistons would have been in the marketplace looking for a wing and a point guard with their mid-level exception of $9.25 million as their major lure – surely not enough to land both and maybe not enough, in an overheated market, for either one.

Snell has started 218 out of 442 career games over a six-year career since being drafted 20th overall out of New Mexico by Chicago in 2013. He started 80 games two seasons ago for Milwaukee – the Bucks signed him to a four-year, $46 million deal when it ended in 2017 – and was part of this year’s rotation, starting 12 games, until suffering a late-March ankle injury that kept him sidelined until the Pistons-Bucks first-round playoff series was under way.

Snell became a casualty of Milwaukee’s desire to clear cap space to enable the Bucks to retain as many of their pending free agents as possible. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic are all unrestricted free agents and it’s anticipated that restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon will be targeted with offer sheets by teams hoping to capitalize on Milwaukee’s tight cap sheet.

The Pistons benefit by absorbing a little extra salary next season plus an extra year of a player they needed while pocketing four second-rounders. It allows them to use their remaining resources and focus their efforts on the other of their urgent needs: a backup point guard to run the second unit. Pretty solid start to a critical off-season.

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