NBA free agency: How much can the Detroit Pistons spend?

It’s always dangerous to look at Troy Weaver’s moves in a vacuum, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume trader Troy has completed his rotation and trade as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons.

Let’s at least assume that all six of the players he added through the draft and trade are here to stay. Let’s even pretend this is the Pistons’ opening night lineup and start building the rotation. That will at least help us assess Weaver’s next move as the team prepares for Thursday’s free agency.

For any confused Pistons fans, I know you have questions. They might be as follows: what exactly happened? How much money is left in Detroit? How will this work? What’s next? God, why is this?

We will take one at a time.

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In the end what happened?

A big move for Weaver is actually broken down into three components (so far). He traded Jerami Grant for the 2025 Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick before the draft and jumped from the 40s to the 36th overall pick in the second round.

On NBA draft night, he was involved in a complicated three-team deal with the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets, with Detroit being used to select Jalen Durham and Kemba Walker with the 13th overall pick.

Weaver re-entered a separate deal with the Knicks on Tuesday night that saw Detroit acquire Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, two future second-round picks (including Detroit’s own 2023 pick, which was traded to Khyri Thomas back in 2018) and $6 million for nothing.

Although this is not true. Technically, they’ll likely receive the $20 million traded player exception that Detroit received from Portland in the Grant trade. That’s appealing to the Knicks because they want to make room and take nothing in return so they can sign Jalen Brunson, a deal they may ultimately regret.

The trade player exception cannot be traded with the player, that’s why it’s set up as two separate trades.

How much money is left in Detroit?

The Pistons entered the offseason with the most cap space in the NBA, a figure that soared to $55 million after the Grant trade. But after all this dust settles, the Pistons will have about $23 million, According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account the inevitable new contract of Marvin Bagley III, who is widely expected to return to Detroit on a new multi-year deal.

For the sake of argument, let’s give Bagley an $8 million starting salary next season. We might even venture to say that the Knicks’ $6 million in cash represents Kemba’s buyout figure. That means Detroit will get an additional $3 million. That leaves $18 million in free agency, and the Pistons will have 14 players under contract and only one spot to fill.

Detroit Pistons v Philadelphia 76ers

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How will this work?

Wow, this is a tough question. The short answer is that it probably won’t. The slightly longer answer is that it clearly doesn’t mean there’s more action on the horizon. And the Galactic Brain’s answer is that Weaver thinks it can work well and is willing to roll out the lineup next season.

We can start thinking about rotations, but even figuring out who your starters are is a bit difficult. First, the team has a huge crater that used to be a power forward position, and second, they just traded a traditional center on the verge of signing Bagley to a multi-year deal, and his best position is center, and That’s just two Isaiah Stewart started all 71 games last season.

We’ll rip off the Band-Aid and come up with the starting lineup:

  • Point guard: Cade Cunningham
  • Shooting Guard: Alec Burks
  • Small Forward: Sadiq Bay
  • Power Forward: crater Marvin Bagley III
  • Center: Nerence Noel

I’m sure this starting lineup is not without controversy. First, I put veteran Alec Burks’ 3-point shooting and defense over shiny new creation and franchise building block Jaden Ivey. But defense and 3-point shooting are important, and they are in short supply in Detroit.

Next, I made Bagley the starting power forward, but that’s mostly the default. There really is no clear candidate on the list. Would you rather put Stewart in there and tell him to shoot six 3s per game? Are you putting Kelly Olynyk out there and expecting him to stay physically calm to deal with the anguish of chasing younger, faster players every game? Are you just downshifting and starting Bey there and looking for a new starting small forward? This position is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for the team right now.

Then at center, I traded the tenacious but diminutive Stewart for Noel, simply because Noel provides some verticality that Stewart doesn’t and is also a stronger rim protector. However, at this point, I’d say Stewart is the better rebounder despite giving up 3 inches, and he’s also probably the better overall defender due to his versatility.

Okay, now we get to the bench where things get more interesting.

  • Point Guard: Kylian Hayes
  • Shooting Guard: Jaden Ivey
  • Small Forward: Isaiah Liver
  • Power forward: Kelly Olynyk
  • Center: Isaiah Stewart

It’s like a rotation depth of 10 and we haven’t even considered returning players Corey Joseph (1600 minutes last season), Hamidou Diallo (1269 minutes) or Saben Lee (604 minutes) or the ultimate highball threat Jalendu Lun.

Actually, it’s unlikely that Casey will make a 10-man rotation, but when things go well, this may be the bench he wants to roll out. Imagine what kind of passes Hayes could make to Ivey and Durham with Liver and Olynyk on the perimeter?

When a rookie struggles, you turn to more trustworthy veterans, with Joseph likely to get the minutes ahead of center with Ivey and Durham, while the trio of Olynyk, Bagley and Stewart dominates the minutes.

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics

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What’s next?

The Pistons have a clear need for a power forward and also need to add more outside shooting and about $18 million to make it happen. Teams could sign a new viable starting power forward (Otto Porter Jr. or Bobby Portis), but that would only exacerbate the glut of big men.

I think it’s perfectly fair to assume a trade is coming, and the players who should probably pack overnight include Olynyk, Lee, Joseph, Diallo, Stewart and Hayes. I’m not saying they’ll all be traded, I’m not even saying most of them will be traded. But if Weaver is looking to further strengthen and balance the roster, those names are likely the names he’s trying to fit into the trade.

God, why is this?

Pistons fans once dreamed of trading Jerami Grant for John Collins or the seventh overall pick. They saw cap space and wanted Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges. They saw playoffs and even playoffs.

All that unlikely aside, Detroit ended up getting some solid veterans, their contracts expired, and they recommitted to developing their young players, adding Ivey and Durham by accident, and possibly by surprise, and Absolute cap space and flexibility going forward.

As veterans on expiring trades, Noel and Burks could help Detroit on the floor and be flipped as contenders for real assets at the deadline. If the Pistons struggle again this year, the depth of the next draft will be ridiculous, and you’ll feel like you can find a truly impactful player anywhere in the top eight.

If Noel and Burks exceed their deadlines, Detroit has the ability to keep them and fill the void, or reject their options and play big, but this time it’s true.

Detroit’s hat-covering next season is ridiculous. The Pistons will see $8.9 million in dead money on the books of DeAndre Jordan and Zaire Smith. They also only have $3 million guaranteed to Olynyk.

If you bring back Cade, Killian, Beef Stew, Saddiq, Livers, Ivey and Duren, you’ll only see $45 million in salary commitments for 2023-24. The salary cap is expected to be around $132 million.

I think Troy Weaver can figure out some ways to take advantage of the nearly $90 million cap space, and I’m sure he will, with an eye toward building a team that can win now and for the foreseeable future.

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