Lakers guard Jodie Meeks, soon to officially be a Piston, celebrates a 3-point shot in April. His presence on the floor will open things up for teammates. (Gus Ruelas / Associated Press)
Stan Van Gundy’s first big signing wasn’t met with universal applause across the NBA, after agreeing to terms with shooting guard Jodie Meeks on the first day of free agency.
Giving nearly $20 million over the next three years to a guard who had a good season for a bad Los Angeles Lakers team tends to bring about mixed reactions — unless you’re an NBA player searching for a similar payday.
It probably prompts more questions than answers, ones that won’t be figured out until the summer is over and definitively given when the season begins and the play starts talking.
But from the Pistons’ side of things, you wonder how many factors were in play, or at least which ones held the most weight.
Detroit surely isn’t a free-agent destination, similar to 26 of the 30 teams in the NBA, so did the “Pistons tax” come into effect? Did they pay a little extra than the competition to secure services because winters in the Midwest can be brutal?
Pistons fans are understandably weary, after the free-agent disappointments of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and the recent underachieving, puzzling season Josh Smith just put together. The Pistons are shopping him to other teams.
Perhaps the Pistons considered the escalating salary cap, which rose nearly $5 million this season to $63.2 million, and in 2015-16 it will likely go up to $66.5 million, and the luxury tax will be around $12 million above both those cap figures.
That’s not even adding in the additional revenue the NBA expects to have from its new television/media rights deal, which will come into play after the 2015-16 season. The number will again skyrocket, as big business will become bigger for the NBA — a fact surely not lost on Van Gundy or even Meeks’ agent, the experienced Andy Miller.
All Miller had to do was play tape of the Pistons’ woeful shooting nights and anemic numbers (last in the league in 3-point shooting) and Meeks had all the leverage he needed. The Pistons needed Meeks, or someone like him, more than Meeks needed the Pistons specifically, and all sides knew it.
If Meeks’ estimated $19.5 million is spread evenly through the three seasons, he’ll make an average of $6.5 million per season — certainly a windfall over $5.3 million over his first five seasons combined — and the chunk of space he takes on the Pistons’ cap will decrease as time goes on.
It’s understandable to look at the bare number of Meeks’ contract and question whether it’s a smart move, with Meeks not being known to create off the dribble and being a spot-up specialist — which is almost wholly dependent on the Pistons being a better pick-and-roll team, and Andre Drummond developing into a considerably better post-up option—more questions remain.
But those two things are specialties that Van Gundy the coach is experienced in, and the mere presence of Meeks on the floor opens things up for Drummond, (presumably) Greg Monroe and whoever is running the point guard spot for the Pistons next season, Isaiah Thomas rumors notwithstanding.
As shallow as the shooting guard spot is leaguewide, Meeks’ name doesn’t flow off the top of anyone’s tongue when mentioning the top two-guards.
When one thinks of Boston’s Avery Bradley, the young shooting guard who just netted a deal worth $8 million annually for the next four years, his ballhawking defense is the first thing that comes to mind.
Big deals are to be had, as teams with money to burn must have something to show for the summer.
That said, the Pistons have to be banking on the expectation last season was an indication of what Meeks can do with consistent playing time — and the hope Van Gundy will bring out the best in his skill set.
Figuring out Monroe’s situation, along with either moving Smith or finding an ideal role for him that decreases the harm he can do during one of his uneven stretches is still Van Gundy’s biggest task.
Still, the free-agent market is always a risk, as the bigger the contract number, the bigger the risk, the greater the skepticism, but Van Gundy has carte blanche for the time being.