That didn’t take long.
The Pistons saw a void in their roster and didn’t waste much time in free agency addressing their top need. Although they were over the salary cap, the Pistons made a small dive in free agency that could have a bigger ripple effect, agreeing to terms with forward Glenn Robinson III on a two-year deal on Sunday.
It’s a low-risk move for Ed Stefanski — who has assumed the duties of general manager — in his first deal in free agency, after he joined the team in May as a senior adviser to Pistons owner Tom Gores. Stefanski made a key addition to address the most glaring roster need: depth on the wing.
Stanley Johnson was the only returning small forward from last year’s roster. James Ennis III, acquired at the trade deadline, is an unrestricted free agent and Bruce Brown, taken in the second round (42nd overall) in last month’s NBA draft, could provide more depth.
Robinson represents a low-cost option — reportedly $4 million next season and a team option for $4.3 million in 2019-20 — on a short-term deal. It’s a shrewd move by the Pistons because by the time Robinson’s contract is over, they will have a decision to make on Johnson’s future with the team, as he will be finishing his rookie deal and will be due for a raise in his second contract.
Now, they have another potential option in Robinson, who played two years at Michigan, including on the 2013 team that went to the national championship game. Robinson was taken 40th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2014 draft, but was waived and signed by the Philadelphia 76ers midway through the season. He averaged just 2.1 points in 35 games as a rookie before going to hometown Indiana Pacers the following season.
Last season was his third with the Pacers and Robinson missed the first 58 games because of an ankle injury he suffered in training camp. Last year, Robinson, 24, played in a career-low 23 games but shot a career-best 41 percent (14-of-34) on 3-pointers and contributed 4.1 points and 1.6 rebounds.
Robinson, at 6-foot-7, is regarded as a good defender, complementing Johnson’s strength, but is a more-adept outside shooter and brings athleticism, having won the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend.
Joining the Pistons presents an opportunity for Robinson to bolster his career, in a role complementing Johnson, but likely running with the Pistons’ second unit, with point guard Ish Smith as the hub of a younger, fast-break-oriented group.
The Pistons were limited in their options in free agency after their trade-deadline deal in January that brought Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers gave them a deeper financial commitment to the current roster and not much wiggle room. They already were over the salary cap last season and were approaching the luxury-tax line.
Next season’s luxury-tax threshold is at $123.7 million and the Pistons are teetering close to that level, with about $2 million to spare. That includes cap holds for shooting guard Reggie Bullocks, for whom the Pistons have a team option for $2.5 million next season, which they almost certainly will exercise in the coming weeks.
With Robinson’s deal, the Pistons will be much closer but likely are pursuing some additional trades to free up cap space to make other moves. They would need another team that would be willing to take on additional salary, but would want other assets, such as draft picks or young players in addition to consummate such a deal.
Gores has said that he would be willing to go over the tax if the Pistons were contending, but having missed the playoffs with a 39-43 record last season, that isn’t a likely scenario — at least until the trade deadline in January, when they will have a better indication of their standing in the Eastern Conference.
LeBron James’ teams have won the Eastern Conference each of the past eight seasons and with his announcement Sunday that he’s going from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers, there will be a new champion. Though the Boston Celtics and Sixers appear to be the favorites, the Pistons could take a big leap with a healthy season for Griffin, Reggie Jackson and others.