Auburn Hills — At the start of free agency, the Pistons had their plan together. They were looking to keep restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope despite the projected cost. They were looking to bolster their backcourt with shooters, such as Langston Galloway, whom they signed.
The situation with Caldwell-Pope had been marinating for a year: debating whether he was a max player, worth upwards of $25 million per season. The Pistons didn’t seem to have another plan.
One came to them: Avery Bradley from the Boston Celtics.
It came at a high price, giving up Marcus Morris, who had become one of the Pistons’ most vocal leaders and was starting to take the mantle as one of the core members of the future that team president Stan Van Gundy wanted to build around.
Then came the opportunity to get Bradley.
“We were just lucky to have him be available and that sort of changed our plans,” Van Gundy said Monday.
“Our plan was basically to get Langston as protection and then we were in the KCP thing — that’s where we were headed — and then Avery Bradley became available and it was just too good to pass up for us.”
Pistons president-head coach Stan Van Gundy on trading Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Van Gundy accentuated Bradley’s resume: a first-team all-defense selection in 2016 and better 3-point shooting than Caldwell-Pope brought. They had made a substantial offer — reportedly 5 years, $80 million — at the start of free agency, but Caldwell-Pope and his agent, Rich Paul, were looking to gauge the market, seeking an offer near the maximum.
To match a potential max offer, the Pistons would have had to go above the luxury-tax level of $119 million and then would have needed to shed about $10 million in salary.
That would have meant trading a front-line player. In the initial plan, that was where the Pistons were headed, with owner Tom Gores’ blessing.
It wasn’t a case of Caldwell-Pope not being a max player or the Pistons looking in another direction — they were all-in on staying the course.
“(Not having KCP) wasn’t even something that we had talked about, to be quite honest. What happened was the deal with Boston with Avery Bradley there,” Van Gundy said. “What we had to weigh there is Avery comes in and he’s only got one year on his contract, against where KCP’s contract could potentially go.
“If you sign him, you’re well into the tax and now have significantly less flexibility going forward.
“It was never a point where it was a matter of what KCP was worth. It was not us saying he’s not worth that. ... It was not a strategy at the beginning of the summer that we don’t want to pay KCP.”
Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower had been discussing another deal involving other players with Boston, but when Bradley became available, the tenor of the talks changed. Both sides re-evaluated and reached an agreement on Friday.
“It actually didn’t happen that quickly. We had had discussions of a different variety, a different nature over a couple weeks, but the momentum of it when it seemed like it was about to be a deal that both sides were ready to agree on happened very quickly overnight,” Bower said. “The seeds for it had been planted a couple weeks earlier but the conditions weren’t right until that very moment.”
After getting Bradley, the Pistons renounced their rights to Caldwell-Pope, 24, who became an unrestricted free agent. Instead of getting an anticipated max deal, he’s still awaiting an offer, with reported interest from the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets — but likely not at the max level.
The Pistons managed to steer clear of the luxury tax and get a player that helps them on both ends of the court, even if it is a one-year rental. Although Bradley’s stats have improved in each of his seven seasons, he’s looking to bring more than just scoring and defense.
Van Gundy was looking to diversify the backcourt and thinks he did so with one of the best all-around guards in the league. Whether that production levels off in a new system of if he doesn’t have the same cast around him as in Boston, Van Gundy is focusing on the upside.
“He’s in a really high level right now, so if he levels off as a first-team All-NBA defensive guy and shoots 38 percent from 3 and averages 16 points, I think we’ll take the plateau, if that’s where it is,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think he is a guy that’s going to plateau because he’s an extremely hard worker and clearly has added to his game every year.
“Right now, he’s a very, very good player.”