They’re betting on themselves at this point.
And for both the Pistons and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the uncertainty that wager carries won’t be decided in a week or two, no matter how this round of free agency shakes out, with the NBA moratorium lifted at noon Thursday.
At the moment, the player and the team are stuck in limbo. And while that’s a crowded place in today’s NBA — with a handful of “haves” and a whole lot of “have-nots” littering the landscape — the two sides also reached an awkward pause in conversation, waiting for someone else to break the ice.
The Brooklyn Nets may be Caldwell-Pope’s last, best hope in that regard. Once their failed bid to land Washington’s Otto Porter ends — the Wizards reportedly will match the Nets’ maximum-contract offer sheet this week — perhaps they’ll circle back and make a similar offer for the Pistons’ restricted free agent.
But if not, then it'll be time for Caldwell-Pope to call his own shot.
Because the suitors expected to line up for the 24-year-old shooting guard all seem to have turned elsewhere. Philadelphia signed J.J. Redick on a one-year deal. Sacramento spent its money on more established veterans. Even Atlanta, which now has an RFA offer sheet of its own to match for Tim Hardaway Jr., just used a chunk of its salary-cap space to acquire another first-round pick from Houston.
So maybe Caldwell-Pope and his agent, Rich Paul, misread the market here. And maybe that explains a bit more why the Pistons were willing to box themselves in financially with their quick offer to free agent combo guard Langston Galloway, a reported three-year, $21 million deal that seems like a bit of an overpay — again — given this summer’s depressed market
That leaves them only about $17 million under a hard-cap ceiling, so if a max offer (four years, $106.5 million) were to come from Brooklyn — or somewhere else — in the coming days, the Pistons then would have to shed a significant salary elsewhere in order to match.
‘He should be a Piston’
Letting Caldwell-Pope walk for nothing isn’t a viable alternative for Stan Van Gundy, who has insisted all along the Pistons value the shooting guard as much as anyone, viewing him as a 3-and-D talent with still-untapped potential.
Pistons owner Tom Gores talked about that rather matter-of-factly during the season, calling Caldwell-Pope the kind of “hard-working” and “reliable” player he wanted to continue building around.
“He should be a Piston,” Gores told reporters back in January. “That’s just bottom line: He has what it takes to be a Piston.”
So if it comes to matching an offer sheet, it may take trading away another big contract with a draft pick or another inducement attached. Jon Leuer’s deal could be the answer there, particularly if the Pistons feel Henry Ellenson is ready to fill his role in the rotation.
But increasingly, it looks as if the next big decision will be in Caldwell-Pope’s court. Specifically, if there’s no $20-plus million offer out there, will he settle for something less, which is what the Pistons have been offering all along?
Evan Fournier got a five-year, $85 million deal from Orlando in last summer’s league-wide spending spree, while Portland’s Allen Crabbe got four years and $75 million. This summer, Miami just re-signed Dion Waiters to a four-year, $52 million deal, while Hardaway's offer sheet from the Knicks reportedly is for $71 million over four years. So if you’re Caldwell-Pope, are you really willing to take a calculated risk and sign a qualifying offer — a la Greg Monroe a few years ago — and bank on cashing in as unrestricted free agent next summer?
Probably not, though Caldwell-Pope was putting up career-best numbers until suffering a shoulder injury in mid-January.
And that’s why the most likely scenario when the dust settles is still the collective bet. The one the Pistons have made by doubling down on the young core Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower have assembled here.
‘I like our guys’
They largely blamed last season’s 37-45 disappointment on Reggie Jackson’s knee injury, and there’s certainly a supporting argument for that. But by keeping the roster largely intact this offseason, the Pistons aren’t giving themselves much wiggle room, in dollars or sense.
“I like our guys — I’ve said that many times,” Van Gundy insisted on draft night. “We didn’t have a good year. But we can come back with the same group and I feel, with better health and guys with a little better focus, we can be a lot better with the same group.”
If they do, they certainly can get back in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Indiana, Chicago and Atlanta all took a major step back with stars departing this offseason, opening the door for teams like Detroit, Philadelphia and Charlotte. That might not mean much, but it’d mean something for a team moving into a new arena downtown and trying rebuild its fan base.
And given their own self-imposed restrictions, if this summer ends with Caldwell-Pope re-signed to a reasonable deal, the Pistons likely will view that as a success.
You can call their bluff if you want. Pistons fans have every right do so, especially the way this team performed last season, starting with Andre Drummond and his max contract and extending to either the end of the bench, from Van Gundy and his exasperated coaching posture to Boban Marjanovich and his ill-defined role.
There are no guarantees here, obviously. And as Bower said after the season, assessing the KCP conundrum, “That’s a hand we have to be ready to play, no matter what direction we go.” But soon enough, they'll all have to show their cards.