Auburn Hills — With their current salary structure, the Pistons have two big questions heading into next season: Will they be able to keep Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and is Aron Baynes an option?
The easy answers are yes and no. But it might not be that simple.
Caldwell-Pope is a restricted free agent and the Pistons will have the ability to match the terms of any offer sheet that another team presents. The Pistons value Caldwell-Pope and likely would do whatever is necessary to keep him — at least for next season.
“We think KCP is a very, very good young player who has been an important part of our core. He’s 24 years old and still on the upside. Through the All-Star break, he had made some significant gains in the way he played,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday, in the season-ending press conference at The Palace. “He’s a guy we really like and we look forward to his continued development.”
Caldwell-Pope shot a career-best 35 percent on 3-pointers and his production dipped in the second half of the season, with his scoring (13.8) and rebounding (3.3) dipping below last year’s levels. But as the best perimeter defender and one of the quiet leaders in the locker room, he’s a piece that the Pistons would have trouble replacing in the long term.
What’s more, the Pistons won’t know what happens with Caldwell-Pope as other teams jockey to try to make a move toward presenting an offer sheet in the free-agency period.
“With the timing of things, you never know for sure until the period begins. There is a danger because we don’t have it with any certainty,” general manager Jeff Bower said. “Hopefully, we’re able to move along with the things we have and everything is aligned.
“That’s a hand we have to be ready to play, no matter what direction we go. We have a lot of control in the situation, which is something we value and expect to be able to take advantage of.”
Pistons owner Tom Gores has come out in support of bringing Caldwell-Pope back, despite the financial commitment the move would bring and the weight it would put on the salary cap, putting the Pistons near the luxury-tax line.
But Van Gundy reiterated that it won’t hinder the Pistons’ other potential plans in free agency, as they are nearly fully committed in their current roster.
“It doesn’t really slow us down a lot because it’s not like we have a lot of cap space,” Van Gundy said. “More than likely, the guys we could pursue in most cases — as the situation stands now, unless something changes before then — would be guys that would be later in the (process) anyway.”
In looking at Baynes situation, the backup center has a player option for the final year of his contract, for $6.5 million. With comparable centers around the league commanding almost double that amount, there’s a good chance that Baynes would be gone.
But Baynes tweeted Friday a hint that things could be not so certain.
“A big thank you to all the Detroit Pistons fans for standing by us all season long,” Baynes wrote. “Tough one but looking to get better next year!!”
The Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic last summer as insurance in case Baynes decided to leave, but it could present an interesting dynamic if Baynes stuck around.
“Aron is under contract for next year. He has the option to opt out and he’ll have to make that decision. We have the ability to work with that up to a certain point if he does opt out,” Bower said. “All indications that that could be a challenge for us.
“We’ll have to see when Aron makes the decision. There’s every reason to think that he’s very challenged with being here, but the economic side could kick in very reasonably.”
Van Gundy shouldered some of the blame for the offensive woes, saying that he could have done more to create offensive opportunities. In some cases, he didn’t create enough for players such as Stanley Johnson, Marjanovic and Jon Leuer.
That’s something he’ll look to change next year.
“I think we can do a lot of work beyond just tinkering and take a good hard look at what we’re doing offensively system-wise to fit our players a little better and get us more quality shots,” Van Gundy said.
“The shots we were getting, some of it is the product of the players we have out there, but some is the system, too. We didn’t get enough layups and we didn’t get enough 3-point attempts. They come hand-in-hand.”