AUBURN HILLS – Ahead of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s free agency, conventional wisdom said the Pistons held not all but most of the cards. That’s the very nature of restricted free agency. In hindsight, it probably worked against the Pistons this time – and didn’t exactly work out the way Caldwell-Pope’s side expected, either.
Chances are probably better that they retain Avery Bradley next summer even though Bradley will hit July 1 completely unfettered as an unrestricted free agent. The Pistons will have relatively minor advantages as the home team, able to offer Bradley an extra year on his contract and higher annual raises.
But at least there will be equal motivation on either side to negotiate immediately when free agency opens at 12:01 a.m. next July 1. In the Caldwell-Pope case, the Pistons made an offer and waited to hear back – and, from all indications, never did.
The Caldwell-Pope side went about soliciting an offer sheet from another team that never came. It appears their strategy was to use other teams to negotiate a contract with the Pistons. As options dried up around them and the Pistons were presented an opportunity to trade for Bradley, they checked back on Caldwell-Pope one last time before jumping on Boston’s offer before the Celtics pivoted – and effectively ended the Caldwell-Pope pursuit.
The Pistons and Bradley get all of the 2017-18 season to test their relationship, but the same reasons that prompted Van Gundy to deal a player he considered integral to his rebuilding of the Pistons and, as he would later say, “one of my favorite guys that I’ve ever coached” – Marcus Morris – are likely to have him fully invested in retaining Bradley next July.
Revisit Van Gundy’s three off-season priorities: add highly competitive players, improve the team’s 3-point shooting and help out point guards Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith by bringing in secondary ballhandlers.
Bradley not only checks off all three boxes, he does so emphatically.
So 82 games are a lifetime, but it’s not likely Bradley is going to fundamentally change who he is after seven years in the league building a reputation as one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders who’s shot above 35 percent from the 3-point arc in four straight seasons and above 39 percent in two of them.
Just as Van Gundy had the word of Pistons owner Tom Gores that it was OK to wade into luxury tax territory to retain Caldwell-Pope, he expects the same marching orders next summer to keep Bradley.
“In the right situation for the right people, Tom’s more than willing to pay the tax,” Van Gundy said. “I think about half the league’s going to be paying the tax this year. Tom’s not opposed to that.”
It’s also not a fait accompli that the Pistons will need to cross that threshold to retain Bradley. Van Gundy, general manager Jeff Bower and associate GM Pat Garrity, the organization’s point man on cap issues, have game planned for multiple scenarios with regard to the cap and roster for next summer.
“We’ve got other strategies,” Van Gundy said. “The finances will not inhibit our ability to re-sign Avery at whatever it takes. If we’re in a situation where we want Avery back and Avery wants to be here, we’ll be able to bring him back.”