Auburn Hills — When NBA free agency begins Sunday, the scene could be similar to the morning after Thanksgiving, when teams with salary-cap space and high aspirations go shopping for some of the top players available.
The Pistons could find themselves at the back of the line, looking through their coupons and awaiting the markdown prices that could come after some players don’t get the big deals they were hoping to receive.
And that could take some time — possibly a week or more — before the Pistons have a good sense of what market for second- and third-tier options looks like.
The Pistons don’t have any available cap space and barring an unforeseen trade, and will be working only with the mid-level exception of $9.2 million and about $3.6 million in the biannual exception. They can use either on multiple players, but cannot combine both into one salary.
Still, the lack of cap space will force the Pistons to search for bargains.
“It’s hard because it’s only $9.2 million. It’s a lot — but in the NBA, it’s relative,” Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski said recently. “Do you want to be aggressive early with not a lot of money early or do you have the patience to sit there and wait?
“You’re waiting until the second week to see who falls through the cracks.”
The biggest roster needs appear to be at backup point guard and backup center, and even after trading for Tony Snell and drafting Sekou Doumbouya, they could be looking at upgrades at small forward, depending on the cost.
It most certainly won’t be Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard. Neither will it be Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker or D’Angelo Russell. What the Pistons can target are more moderately priced options, potentially some who are seeking big paydays but fail because the market dries up.
One strategy could be to use a big chunk of the mid-level exception on one player they believe could make a bigger impact and split the rest of their available allotment on veteran-minimum players to fill out the roster.
It seems the Pistons won’t get a player who will change their trajectory significantly. More than likely, they will peruse the market for a solid role player who will help off the bench and provide depth for a second unit that lacked scoring at times last season.
The Pistons still have to decide on team option for $4.3 million with forward Glenn Robinson III for next season, but likely will go in a different direction. Wayne Ellington was a good addition after the trade deadline and his shooting will be the prototype of any potential free-agent addition.
Ish Smith made $6 million per season over the last three years as the backup point and the Pistons would love to get similar production at a lower cost. That’s the rub — it will take some good scouting and luck to get that in this market.
Here is a look at 10 potential targets for the Pistons in free agency:
Seth Curry, 28, 6-foot-2, 185
► 2018-19 stats: 7.9 pts., 1.6 rebs., 45 percent 3FG in 74 games
► Last contract: 1 year, $2.8 million with Trail Blazers
► Outlook: The Pistons could make a play for Curry, but he’ll be highly coveted. He would bring stability and shooting to a second unit that desperately needs it. He hasn’t gotten a big payday in his six years in the NBA and this could be a good one for him, with the right team.
What Smith lacked in long-distance effectiveness, Curry could provide, fitting nicely into coach Dwane Casey’s system. His 3-point shooting isn’t a fluke — in his last three seasons, his percentages have been fairly constant: 45 percent, 43 percent and 45 percent.
If there’s one player in their range to spend most of the mid-level exception on, it could be Curry. Whether he’d want to go from a contending team like the Blazers to a building team like the Pistons is another question.
Cory Joseph, 27, 6-3, 195
► 2018-19 stats: 6.5 pts., 3.4 rebs., 3.9 assts., 32 percent 3FG in 82 games
► Last contract: 4 years, $30 million with Raptors (traded to Pacers)
► Outlook: Like Smith, he’s very durable, missing just four games total in the last four seasons. Also like Smith, he’s only an average 3-point shooter, which takes off some of the luster. If the Pistons are looking for more of a pass-first backup point guard, he could be a younger option. His playoff experience also could be a tiebreaker in comparing similar options.
Derrick Rose, 30, 6-3, 200
► 2018-19 stats: 18 pts., 2.7 rebs., 4.3 assts., 37 percent 3FG in 51 games
► Last contract: 1 year, $2.2 million with Timberwolves
► Outlook: If he has the same production that he did last season, Rose would be a top choice for the Pistons. Injuries always are a concern, though, and the Pistons suffered greatly when Smith was injured last season, going an abysmal 8-18. It’s likely worth a gamble, depending on what the salary number is, but there will be other suitors as well.
Ish Smith, 30, 6-feet, 175
► 2018-19 stats: 8.9 pts., 2.6 rebs., 3.6 assts., 33 percent 3FG in 56 games
► Last contract: 3 years, $18 million with Pistons
► Outlook: The Pistons had plenty of good production out of Smith, but when he struggled shooting from 3, teams were able sag off him. He was a game-changer with his fast pace and decision-making, but at times was a defensive liability because of his size. His leadership was an asset.
Reggie Bullock, 28, 6-7, 205
► 2018-19 stats: 11.3 pts., 2.7 reb.s, 38 percent 3FG in 63 games
► Last contract: 2 years, $5 million with Pistons (traded to Lakers)
► Outlook: Bullock was a starter in 44 games with the Pistons before being dealt at the trade deadline. He looked to be heading for a big contract but didn’t take off with the Lakers as expected. Bullock was solid with the Pistons and could make a return if there aren’t other options.
Rodney Hood, 26, 6-8, 205
► 2018-19 stats: 11.2 pts., 2.2 rebs., 36 percent 3FG in 72 games
► Last contract: 1 year, $3.5 million with Cavaliers (traded to Trail Blazers)
► Outlook: As the Cavs look to retool, Hood could be an interesting target in free agency. He’s a good scorer whose versatility could help in the second unit. He could be a good addition at a lower price, though other teams in the Pistons’ situation also could be interested.
Ed Davis, 30, 6-10, 225
► 2018-19 stats: 5.8 pts., 8.6 rebs. in 81 games
► Last contract: 1 year, $4.4 million with Nets
► Outlook: Davis is a solid backup center who doesn’t need plays called for him, and will stick to his bread-and-butter of playing defense, setting screens and rebounding. The potential cost might be a little high for what the Pistons are willing to offer, but if they save money elsewhere, he could be a top option.
Dewayne Dedmon, 29, 7-0, 245
► 2018-19 stats: 10.8 pts., 7.5 rebs., 38 percent 3FG in 64 games
► Last contract: 2 years, $14 million with Hawks
►Outlook: A young, defensive-minded big who can hit from beyond the arc and flirt with averaging a double-double? That would be the ideal, but his production will no doubt attract other teams as well, which makes him becoming a Piston more and more doubtful.
JaVale McGee, 31, 7-feet, 270
► 2018-19 stats: 12 pts, 7.5 rebs in 75 games
► Last contract: 1 year, $2.4 million with Lakers
► Outlook: McGee has turned into the perpetual candidate for teams seeking a solid contributor with minimal salary. After having success with the Warriors, he can be more of a mercenary, looking for the right fit. Several teams will be trying to lure him, so the Pistons may have to wait it out.
Eric Moreland, 27, 6-10, 240
► 2018-19 stats: 1.4 pts, 4 rebs in 5 games
► Last contract: $239,000 with Suns
► Outlook: Call him NBA-champion Eric Moreland. The former Pistons backup latched on with the champs in April and reaped the benefits as a third center. A reunion with the Pistons would mean they had minimum money left and wanted to give him another look. He was good in his previous stint here.