Pistons trade Meeks, free up salary cap money
Orlando — Although NBA free agency doesn’t begin until Friday, the Pistons got a jump-start on the frenzy.
They traded veteran shooting guard Jodie Meeks to the Magic on Wednesday for a conditional 2019 second-round pick. The move clears up salary cap space for the Pistons, who are looking to add a couple of free agents.
Meeks is entering the final season of his three-year, $19.5 million contract and is slated to make $6.5 million next season. He was the first big free-agent signing for Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy when he took over two years ago.
Projected to be a critical piece when he signed in 2014, Meeks’ time in Detroit has been beset with injuries. He suffered a foot fracture that limited him to three games last season.
“It was two things — we’ve got a lot of wing guys and Jodie and his agent had asked for a trade,” Van Gundy said. “We weren’t just going to give him away for nothing. At least we got back one of the (draft) picks we gave up in the Reggie (Jackson) deal.
“Jodie wanted another opportunity and we get back the second and clean up a roster glut of players.”
Meeks became expendable because of the development of some younger players, who got more time while Meeks was injured. Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard had promising rookie seasons, plus the Pistons got a boost from Reggie Bullock. All three players are under 25 and could be the nucleus of the wing position for the next few years.
With the trade, the Pistons increased their available cap space to about $21 million.
That could enable them to pursue some of the top targets, such as Hawks big man Al Horford or Pelicans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, who are each expected to command upward of $20 million per season.
The NBA salary cap is expanding from $70 million last year to around $94 million this season.
With the bidding bonanza expected to take place with even some of the second-tier free agents, Van Gundy doesn’t expect things to be predictable, so the additional cap space is a comfort.
“It gives us a little bit more margin, so that if the numbers start to go up a little, you’ve got a little bit of space to deal with,” Van Gundy said. “We want to be disciplined with it but it does give you flexibility where you’re not going to lose a guy over $100,000 or $200,000 or something like that, so that part of it was good.”
Van Gundy has said the priority in free agency will be getting a backup point guard and a power forward. After picking up big man Henry Ellenson and versatile wing Michael Gbinije in last week’s draft, they’re now are looking to solidify both positions with veterans via free agency or trade.
After trading reserve guard Spencer Dinwiddie to the Bulls this month for big man Cameron Bairstow, the Pistons were left with Jackson and Lorenzo Brown as the only point guards on the roster.
Now, they’ll gauge how Gbinije does at point guard beginning this week in Summer League as a potential option. Gbinije played point guard at Syracuse last season.
The Pistons could be targeting point guards such as Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers), D.J. Augustin (Thunder) or Jeremy Lin (Hornets).
“You have to see where (the bidding) goes,” Van Gundy said. “Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you want to spend it all.”
Meeks joins his fifth team in his eighth season. In two seasons with the Pistons, he averaged 10.9 points and hit 35 percent (78-for-221) on 3-pointers.
The potential benefit for the young Magic team is a veteran wing who could bring savvy and look to fill the hole left by Victor Oladipo, who was traded for Thunder big man Serge Ibaka last week in a draft-day deal.
“I like Jodie; I just wish it would have ended better — I think he could have helped us,” Van Gundy said. “He was the first guy (I signed) and then the injuries last year and he played three games.
“It was a difficult situation. He looked at all the guys out there and he wanted to go somewhere where he had a more defined role going in.”