In the days leading up to the start of NBA free agency on Sunday, the rumor mill about the elite-level free agents was churning vigorously. The projected destinations for all the Big K’s (Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson) had been big news for weeks and months.
Conspicuously absent from any of those conversations were the Pistons, who didn’t have space under the salary cap, nor the trade assets, to be in on any of the top targets, but they had a plan nonetheless.
One of their big priorities was getting a solid backup point guard, which led to their pursuit of former league MVP Derrick Rose and agreeing to a two-year deal for $15 million on Sunday, a league source confirmed to The Detroit News.
Rose, 30, is almost a decade removed from his MVP season of 2010-11 with the Chicago Bulls, when he posted 25 points, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds. An ACL injury sapped Rose of his best years and he has worked his way back to being a good player in the past two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
While the initial deals started to be announced, the big numbers were mesmerizing.
In the realm of the deals for other point guards, Rose looks to be a bargain. Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving received deals with an average annual value of $35 million, along with Malcolm Brogdon at $21 million, Terry Rozier at $19 million and Ricky Rubio at $17 million are examples of where the market value skyrocketed.
That’s what makes the Rose deal so reasonable for the Pistons. They weren’t going to get a big-name free agent to replace Reggie Jackson and — at least for now — they weren’t going to trade Jackson or any other big names on their roster.
The Pistons didn’t have a lot to work with — just the $9.3 million available in the mid-level exception and $3.6 million in the bi-annual exception — so getting a player who has a high upside like Rose was about the best they could hope for.
It’s not a home run. At least initially, it’s not going to register on the radar like the big signings of some of the other big names.
But for the Pistons, it’s about the best they could do without ripping up the roster.
Rose put up impressive numbers last season: 18 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the field (37 percent on 3-pointers) in 51 games, including 13 starts. Joining the Pistons provides a good mix of a backup and a potential higher-minutes option if the Pistons trade Jackson, who is in the final year of his deal, valued at $18.1 million next season.
Rose’s arrival almost assuredly means the end of the road for Ish Smith, who finished his contract for three years and $18 million as the backup. Smith became an unrestricted free agent after the season and although he brought a good change of pace and an identity to the second unit, the Pistons were looking for a different identity in that role.
At 6-foot-3, Rose is a little taller and brings a different playmaking ability than Smith. It’s a resurgence for Rose, who was limited to just 25 games in 2017-18 and 64 games the season before that. He hasn’t played more than 70 games since that MVP season in 2010-11.
He had a career-best 50 points in 41 minutes in October against the Jazz last season. The gamble is that Rose is beyond his persistent knee injuries and can continue his upswing toward stats closer to his career numbers.
Rookie Jordan Bone, who was selected in the second round, is expected to be on a two-way contract with the Grand Rapids Drive in the G-League and could be with the Pistons in the event of an injury to either Jackson or Rose.
The work isn’t done for Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski and the team's front office, who likely will wait for some of the smoke to clear before they go after a backup center and another scoring wing.
With the $3.6 million in the bi-annual exception and the remaining money in the mid-level, they could focus on some bargain deals or seek veteran-minimum deals that become available when the market is clearer.
They declined the team option on forward Glenn Robinson III on Saturday, choosing not to commit the $4.2 million.