The Pistons were handcuffed in free agency, way over the salary cap and staring squarely at the luxury tax if they didn’t make a changes. More than likely, the Pistons weren’t going to be any better next season than they were last season at 37-45 if they kept the same roster together.
So Pistons president Stan Van Gundy did something about it, trading Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley and renouncing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, averting a financial crisis that could have locked the Pistons into a financial abyss reserved for the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
If nothing else, the Pistons won the trade by not committing to Caldwell-Pope potentially for four years and $106 million, especially if they didn’t think that he was a long-term puzzle piece for future success. The risk is that the Pistons only have one year of Bradley before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.
They potentially could lose Caldwell-Pope and Morris — two starters from last season — for one year of Bradley and a chance to keep him long term, if they choose to offer the same $20-plus million to him.
Around the league, the reviews of the trade for Bradley were mixed. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton gave the Pistons a "D” for the deal.
“In order for that deal to make sense, Bradley would have to be a substantial upgrade on Caldwell-Pope. I’m not convinced that’s the case,” Pelton wrote. “Bradley is a better 3-point shooter (39.0 percent last season and 36.6 percent career, vs. 35.0 percent last season and 33.4 percent career for Caldwell-Pope), but their box-score stats are otherwise broadly similar.
“As noted, advanced metrics haven’t supported the notion that Bradley is an elite defender. I think they somewhat understate his value, which is somewhere in the very good range. Caldwell-Pope isn’t far off that.”
Two years ago, Bradley was a first-team selection to the all-defensive team, a road that Caldwell-Pope was still on the road to achieving. Bradley was the Celtics’ second-leading scorer (16.3 points) and could fit into the Pistons’ plans, doing the same things that Caldwell-Pope did — but maybe better.
Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni gave the Pistons a “B” for acquiring Bradley.
“How will the highly-paid Reggie Jackson, newly-signed Langston Galloway, draftee Luke Kennard, Bradley and Ish Smith all fit together? Bradley is easily the best of the bunch…” Nadkarni wrote. “Detroit still needs to sort out its backcourt, but Bradley is a keeper, and if the Pistons can convince him to stick around, he’s a player who can be a building block for the future.”
Summer league takeaways
The Pistons likely were encouraged by the performances of second-year forward Henry Ellenson and rookie Luke Kennard in the Orlando Summer League, as the two were among the top players in the eight-team tournament.
The Monday Drive takes a look at five key observations from the summer league, where the Pistons finished as the runner-up for the second straight year.
1. Luke is a force: Kennard shot 48 percent from 3-point range and was an able ball handler and distributor. Most of the questions about whether he could be tough enough and compete on the defensive end were answered. He looks to be in line for more playing time with the Pistons than in the D-League next season.
2. Moreland is a fit: Heading into summer league, Eric Moreland wasn’t regarded as a strong contender to grab a roster spot, but with his active play around the rim and rim protection, he looks like a very good complement to Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic. After struggling through injuries early in his career, he earned a multi-year contract.
3. Big man moves: Like Kennard, Ellenson had questions about his defense, but the results weren’t as encouraging. He’s a bit leaner but still needs to get stronger to handle the physical play in the post. With Morris gone, he’ll likely see more playing time. But under Van Gundy, he’ll have to continue to earn it.
4. Under the radar: Point guard Pierre Jackson was clutch, hitting a game-winner in double-overtime, but the Pistons’ backcourt looks to be set. Finally healthy, Michael Gbinije didn’t distinguish himself, which could be ominous considering his full salary isn’t guaranteed beyond July 15.
5. Big beneficiary: Stanley Johnson didn’t play in summer league, but in practice he was more of a vocal leader, helping some of the young players adjust to the schemes and learn plays. It’s a step, given Johnson could slide into a starting role, as a beneficiary of the trade that sent Morris out of that spot.