The Monday Drive: Pistons set up free-agent action plan
With the NBA draft in the rearview mirror and the free-agency period approaching on Friday, Pistons president Stan Van Gundy has a road map for how the team will proceed in trying to improve on last season.
Getting the No. 8 seed was a step forward, but the moves the Pistons make with free agents this summer could jump-start their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings. The two target positions are power forward and point guard — and the Pistons potentially have added one of each in the draft in big man Henry Ellenson and versatile wing Michael Gbinije.
The frenzy around free agency will feature bloated contracts — the salary cap is expected to skyrocket from $70 million last season to $94 million — and the chase to land superstar forward Kevin Durant. Although the Pistons are not likely to participate in the Durant bidding race, they will be in for some of the mid-level prospects.
With the Orlando Summer League beginning Saturday, The Monday Drive takes a look at 10 thoughts on the Pistons’ offseason:
1. Two for one: Van Gundy said the Pistons were hoping to find one potential piece in the draft but may have gotten two in Ellenson and Gbinije. There’s no rush to put either in the rotation, but with Ellenson’s face-up game and Gbinije’s versatility, they could find themselves some playing time early if they catch on quickly.
2. Big plans: Al Horford could be the apple of the Pistons’ eye, but they’ll have to find a spot in a long line of suitors. What’s more, the bidding is likely to go above $20 million per season — way above the $15 million or so the Pistons likely will have available to plug their gaps — so they’d have to shed some salary to make room.
3. The big deal: Andre Drummond will be a restricted free agent, but all signs point to the Pistons offering a max deal (five years, $120 million). Some argue that Drummond isn’t a “max” player, but are there five better centers in the league? Ten? Contracts will be crazy in free agency, but whether Drummond deserves it or not, he’ll likely get a max offer.
4. Getting the point: Although the Pistons didn’t get a traditional point guard in the draft, they may be looking to use Gbinije as the third option and still get a veteran true point guard in free agency to be the backup. That pool could include D.J. Augustin, Jeremy Lin or Brandon Jennings, depending on how much they’re seeking with the expanded cap.
5. Thinking long term: The Pistons will have to figure out what to do with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He could become a free agent after next season and the Pistons need to decide whether they want to commit to him for a longer term. Though his defense has been superb, he hasn’t reached his peak offensively. This year is a big audition.
6. The Stanley plan: The decision to let Stanley Johnson play in the summer league is a good move. Van Gundy initially ruled out letting Johnson compete, but associate coach Bob Beyer is looking to have Johnson improve his left hand, ball-handling and pick-and-roll skills in live competition instead of just working in the gym.
7. Summer plans: Along with Johnson, Darrun Hilliard could be in line for a good summer league, as he’ll be one of the main shooters on the roster. He’ll get more seasoning by playing heavy minutes and working on his game, prepping him for a potential boost in playing time next season.
8. At the line: The talk just after the season about Drummond trying something drastically different on free throws — including possibly shooting underhanded — has died down. Van Gundy said they’re looking more at improving his mental approach and technique before he gets to the line.
9. Welcome back, Tolliver? The free-agent market isn’t great for power forwards, beyond the top targets. After they look at point guards — and depending on the cost — the Pistons could end up with Anthony Tolliver again. At $3 million last season, he could be a low-cost bargain and free up more money for a point guard.
10. Making room: If the Pistons need a roster spot, they could part with newly acquired big man Cameron Bairstow, who came in the Spencer Dinwiddie deal. His contract is not guaranteed and he’s likely playing for the Australian team at the Olympics. Watch for a decision by July 25.
ORLANDO SUMMER LEAGUE
When: July 2-8, Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.
Who: Orlando (two teams), Pistons, Hornets, Mavericks, Pacers, Clippers, Heat, Knicks and Thunder
Format: Five games over seven days, plus championship round
Notable: The Pistons roster includes Stanley Johnson, Darrun Hilliard and draft picks Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, along with Phil Pressey, Kaleb Tarczewski and Jarvis Varnado, according to reports.