One Last Time

If form holds, finale could be last game as Pistons for some

A season finale comes with different levels of finality. The overriding focus for the Pistons’ finale has centered on the future of franchise icon Ben Wallace, who possibly could be wrapping up a 16-year career when the Pistons host Philadelphia on Thursday night.

But a typical off-season even for teams not tearing the roster apart sees perhaps a 30 percent churning, which means two or three other players might be suiting up as Pistons for the final time, as well.

Trying to figure out who those might be is a little like handicapping the NBA draft lottery: Everybody has a chance to be outbound, but some are extreme long shots.

For young players with bright futures and team-friendly rookie contracts like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight, there is nearly a 100 percent certainty that they’ll be back when the Pistons reconvene for the first day of training camp next fall.

For others still under contract and solidly in future plans like Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and Jonas Jerebko, the likelihood of their return is nearly as strong. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, with two years remaining on their contracts, would be a trade fit for relatively few teams because of the size of their deals.

Jason Maxiell has the ability to opt out of the final year of his contract and that could be a tough call for him. Will Bynum and Austin Daye, both in and out of the rotation at various points of the season, are still under contract but within the salary range that makes it easy to lump them into larger trades to balance deals for cap purposes if such an opportunity presents itself.

Damien Wilkins and Walker Russell will be free agents who could be brought back, but fit the profile of players who sign with teams late in the process as they scan NBA rosters to look for the best opportunity to make the team or compete for a role. That leaves Vernon Macklin, very likely to be back but technically a restricted free agent.

There are a handful of teams easy to earmark every summer as most likely to be active in free agency or trade. Miami was the shining example two summers ago when Pat Riley gutted the roster to entice LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

The Pistons won’t have cap space this summer, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be at least typical roster churning. They will go into the May 30 draft lottery with either the eighth or ninth position and have a reasonable expectation of landing a player of Monroe and Knight’s caliber – another young franchise pillar.

In addition, they will have two second-round choices in a deep draft that could yield players good enough to push for minutes. And then there’s Kyle Singler, last year’s No. 2 pick, who opened eyes as the rare American rookie to carve out a niche in the prestigious Spanish ACB League. The trade route, of course, remains open to Joe Dumars, as always.

Bottom line: The team picture they take to commemorate the 2011-12 season finale will look a little different than the group shot when the Pistons gather at their practice facility next fall to start Lawrence Frank’s second season.