Orlando, Fla. — In their financial situation, the Pistons weren’t likely to be big players in the offseason trade market. They’re over the salary cap and unless they make a big move, they’re not likely to be very active in free agency or in the trades.
But they became minor players.
Among the flurry of NBA news — most notably, the New York Knicks parting ways with team president Phil Jackson and Chris Paul going to the Houston Rockets — the Pistons have a small role.
The Pistons are sending third-year guard Darrun Hilliard to the Rockets for cash considerations, the team announced Wednesday afternoon. The move helps facilitate the Rockets’ trade efforts to acquire Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. To make the trade work, the Rockets were seeking expiring, non-guaranteed contracts — and Hilliard fits the bill: $1.47 million for next season.
“We really like Darrun. He’s a guy who has a chance to be a good player in the NBA and has skill and is a great person,” Pistons president Stan Van Gundy said. “What happened with him is when we have Luke (Kennard) at the same position and similar type of role they’d be playing, it sort of made guaranteeing his contract (hard).
“I told him he wasn’t out of our plans, but we just weren’t going to jump in and guarantee his contract, which we would have had to do by the end of the week.”
Hilliard, a 2015 second-round pick (38th overall) from Villanova, played in 77 games and averaged 3.6 points and shot 32 percent from 3-point range for the Pistons.
Hilliard’s full contract amount was set to kick in on Saturday and Pistons president Stan Van Gundy had indicated that Hilliard might practice with the summer league team but Hilliard didn’t make the trip after a long conversation with Van Gundy, who said he was completely honest about the plan moving forward.
“Detroit! #TheRealest I appreciate each and everyone that I was blessed to meet and spend time with! You will be missed!” Hilliard posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.
The Pistons selected Hilliard’s likely replacement, Kennard, with the 12th pick in the NBA draft last week, another signal that Hilliard’s time with the team was coming to an end. By making the move, the Pistons get some salary-cap relief and open a roster spot for a lower-priced free agent.
Van Gundy said the biggest order of business heading into free agency on Saturday is the situation with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The starting shooting guard is a restricted free agent and though the Pistons have extended a qualifying offer of about $5 million, the expectation is that Caldwell-Pope will get a much larger offer sheet from another team.
The Pistons would have a right to match any offer, but Caldwell-Pope also could just choose to accept the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Reggie Bullock, the Pistons’ other restricted free agent, hasn’t been extended a qualifying offer yet, Van Gundy said.
In shaping the roster, Van Gundy said the other two priorities are getting a third point guard and a third center. The thought is that they could get a backup behind Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith in the backcourt but they would prefer a veteran rather than grooming a younger player at that position.
That could include Beno Udrih, who played well in shorter stints, but after suffering a season-ending injury, could be set for a return.
“We want to make sure that we have the position covered with somebody ideally who has NBA experience, just to be covered,” Van Gundy said. “We’re feeling good about Reggie and his situation but we certainly saw the value of a guy like Beno last year.”