Pistons looking at a real possibility for pitched battles over last few roster spots

As May turned to June, the Pistons had two holes in their starting lineup, a potential issue at point guard given the status of their own free agent there, a dearth of frontcourt depth and two obvious means of addressing those issues: cap space and a lottery pick.

Today, they’re down to figuring out how to make an excess of wing players fit into the available roster spots and the timing of contract signings to best utilize the cap space still remaining.

There are nearly three months before training camp opens, so plenty of time for further tinkering – like Monday’s deal that sent Quincy Miller to Brooklyn for further protection at point guard in veteran Steve Blake – and to entertain a more substantial move should such an opportunity present itself.

But the expectation is that the heavy lifting of the off-season is finished. Here’s a look at how the Pistons have reshaped themselves.

POWER FORWARD – The odds tipped in favor of Greg Monroe exiting Detroit the moment he signed a qualifying offer instead of a contract extension last summer. And by the time the season wound down, with the Pistons going 7-4 in the 11 games Monroe missed due to injury, it became prohibitively unlikely the two sides would find a reunion mutually beneficial.

The Pistons acknowledged the unlikelihood of a successful pursuit of Monroe by trading for Ersan Ilyasova in mid-June. In essence, it was a commitment of about 30 percent of their available cap space on a power forward who would have likely commanded significantly more than his 2015-16 salary of $8 million had he been on the market this summer, when salaries spiked in anticipation of next year’s salary cap leap.

Ilyasova is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter and a guy not afraid to stick his nose in the fray, two qualities that should endear him to Van Gundy. He just turned 28, too, and with one year plus a team option on his contract, he offers the Pistons both value and flexibility.

Anthony Tolliver proved his fit as a backup after his December arrival from Phoenix and gets to continue in that role with Ilyasova’s acquisition. Do the Pistons need a third power forward? Van Gundy doesn’t believe they do with the positional versatility provided by center Aron Baynes and small forward Marcus Morris.

SMALL FORWARD – The trade for Ilyasova sent out two players with non-guaranteed deals, one of them – Caron Butler – who finished the season as the nominal starter at small forward. That left only Cartier Martin as a natural small forward left.

The Pistons didn’t target a position in the draft, but got a player they had rated higher than No. 8, Stanley Johnson, with the eighth pick to factor into the equation at small forward. Even if Johnson wasn’t one of the younger players in the draft – he turned 19 less than a month earlier – they weren’t about to assume he’d win a starting job, though.

The most realistic targets in free agency, Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll, were gone before the Pistons had a chance to pitch them. Green took what soon became obvious as a discount to stay in San Antonio. Carroll was blown away by a reported $60 million offer from Toronto.

But when Phoenix needed to create cap room in the event it won the bidding for coveted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge – who eventually chose San Antonio – the Pistons happily committed another chunk of their cap space for Marcus Morris, a young veteran capable of starting or coming off the bench at either forward spot. It was a move, Van Gundy said, he would have made in a heartbeat had it been available to him before free agency began.

For less than a third of the annual commitment Toronto made to Carroll, the Pistons have four years of control of Morris – a player they think could be ready to blossom in the way Carroll, more than 3 years older than Morris, did after arriving in Atlanta two years ago.

Johnson, meanwhile, showed clear evidence in Summer League that he’ll be a factor this season in whatever role Van Gundy chooses for him. Martin could be the No. 3 guy here if he has a strong camp, but Reggie Bullock – acquired in the trade that brought Morris from Phoenix – could also force his way into the picture.

CENTER – The Pistons had 48 minutes of high-level center play last season with Andre Drummond as the starter and Greg Monroe taking the vast majority of the minutes whenever Drummond sat. Joel Anthony was the ideal No. 3 center for his readiness to step in despite sporadic opportunity, a tough ask of any player.

The Pistons hit free agency needing two backups to Drummond. They made their big splash in free agency by landing Spurs center Aron Baynes, a late bloomer whose mid-range jump shot gives Van Gundy another weapon offensively and flexibility in modes of attack.

Baynes played a meaningful role for San Antonio, starting 17 times and averaging 16 minutes a game. It can’t hurt that he’s groomed in an offensive system that puts a premium on ball movement. He’s about as sure a plug-in-and-play candidate as the Pistons could have hoped to get in free agency and Van Gundy made clear on Sunday, when Baynes was formally introduced as a Piston, that he envisions times when Baynes and Drummond play together against bigger lineups – and Baynes’ shooting makes it a pairing that shouldn’t hamper the Pistons offensively or crowd the paint to the detriment of Reggie Jackson’s penetration opportunities.

Retaining Anthony as the No. 3 center, one of the formalities ahead, would give the Pistons a nice blend of skills and enviable depth at the position.

SHOOTING GUARD – No position seemed more settled heading into the off-season and it stands to reason that the two guys who gobble up the 48 available minutes there next season are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jodie Meeks. But Bullock, the 25th pick in 2013, projected out of college as a potential premier 3-point shooter. He hasn’t really had a chance to play much and it won’t be easy to crack the rotation – or the roster – with the Pistons, either. But he’s interesting.

Bullock’s path is further crowded by second-round pick Darrun Hilliard, whose court sense and shooting stroke impressed in Summer League practices and games. Hilliard might not be ready to challenge for minutes out of the gate, but the Pistons are high on his potential. Bullock’s path to playing time, other than showing a consistent shot, is his size and defensive promise.

POINT GUARD – The Pistons’ decision to commit to Reggie Jackson as their point guard essentially was made at the trade deadline. But it sure didn’t hurt that after settling in, Jackson played at an All-Star level for the season’s final month-plus. Over the last 16 games, Jackson averaged 20 points, 11 assists and five rebounds and made nearly half his shots – almost 40 percent from the 3-point arc.

The trade for Jackson cost the Pistons some of their shooting and depth, but Van Gundy has addressed both issues in the past month. Those two factors should ease some of the constant playmaking pressure for Jackson.

Brandon Jennings’ successful return from Achilles tendon repair would be a huge boost for the position. In the 12-3 stretch that ended when Jennings got hurt in late January, he, too, was playing at an All-Star level. A healthy Jennings would anchor a second unit that has high-end scoring punch. But Jennings could be much more than a backup point guard. It’s not hard to envision a three-guard rotation of Jennings, Jackson and Caldwell-Pope given Jackson’s size and ability to guard at either backcourt spot.

In the event Jennings isn’t ready to go 100 percent, the Pistons bought themselves insurance with this week’s trade that sent Quincy Miller to Brooklyn for Steve Blake, a 35-year-old long valued for his basketball IQ and 3-point threat.

Spencer Dinwiddie had ups and downs in Summer League, but it’s always tough for point guards to perform efficiently in that setting given the lack of cohesion on offense as new teammates come together and the constant pressure applied by guards auditioning for No. 3 point guard roles in the NBA – where the ability to hound the ball is coveted foremost – and international roster spots. The Pistons saw enough of Dinwiddie as a rookie to expect he’ll be an effective option if he improves his shooting.

SUMMARY – Some years teams go to training camp with the 15 roster spots locked up and the only suspense, if any, is in determining the back end of the rotation. The Pistons are likely headed to camp with four or five players fighting for the last two roster spots. There might not be room for four shooting guards, meaning Bullock might have to convince the coaching staff he’s a legitimate option to defend at small forward, as well.

Adonis Thomas, a D-League star who got a long look in Summer League and will come to camp, will be in the mix at the two wing positions, as well. Cartier Martin never cracked the rotation last season and has one year remaining on a veteran minimum deal. Veteran Danny Granger, an All-Star in his prime, came in the trade with Phoenix and Van Gundy said Sunday it’s not a given that he’ll be waived.

That’s 18, three over the limit, with all but Thomas on a guaranteed deal. No decisions are necessary until the end of October and it’s possible it will have been sorted out long before then. But it could be a most competitive training camp with five or six players competing for the last two or three available spots.