It’s always dangerous to look at Troy Weaver’s moves in a vacuum, but for the sake of argument, let’s just say that Trader Troy has stopped managing and trading as general manager of the Detroit Pistons.
At least let’s assume the six players he added through the draft and trades are here to stay. Let’s even go so far as to pretend this is the roster the Pistons will have on opening night and start building a rotation. It will at least help us gauge what Weaver’s next move might be as the team prepares for the start of free agency on Thursday.
For any confused Pistons fans, I know you have questions. They are probably the following: What the hell just happened? How much money does Detroit have left? How is this going to work? Whats Next? Why God why?
We’ll take those one at a time.
What the hell just happened?
Weaver’s big move actually falls into three parts (so far). He traded Jerami Grant before the draft for a first-round pick from the 2025 Milwaukee Bucks and a second-round jump from 40 to the 36th pick.
On NBA Draft night, he was part of a complicated three-team deal with the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets that gave Detroit the 13th pick, which was used to select Jalen Duren and Kemba Walker.
On Tuesday night, Weaver recommitted to the Knicks in a separate deal in which Detroit received Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, two future second-round picks (including Detroit’s own 2023 pick that was traded in 2018 for Khyri Thomas) and $6 million for nothing.
Although that’s not really true. They’ll technically likely get the $20 million traded player exception Detroit received from Portland in the Grant deal. That appeals to the Knicks because they want to clear the space and get nothing in return so they can sign Jalen Brunson in a deal they’ll probably come to regret.
A traded player exception cannot be traded along with players, so it is set up as two separate transactions.
How much money does Detroit have left?
The Pistons entered the offseason with the most salary-cap space in the NBA, and that ballooned to $55 million once the Grant trade was made. But after all this dust settles, the Pistons will have roughly $23 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Of course, that doesn’t take into account the inevitable new contract for Marvin Bagley III, who is expected to return to Detroit on a new multiyear deal.
For the sake of discussion, we’re giving Bagley a starting salary of $8 million next season. Let’s even be bold and say that the Knicks’ $6 million in cash represents Kemba’s total purchase number. That means Detroit gets an additional $3 million back. That would leave $18 million to spend in free agency, and the Pistons would have 14 players under contract and just one roster spot to fill.
How is this going to work?
Wow, this is a tough question. The short answer is probably not. The slightly longer answer is that it clearly does not mean more moves are on the horizon. And the response from the brains of the galaxy is that Weaver thinks it can work well enough and is willing to field this lineup next season, come what may.
We can start to think about rotations, but even figuring out who their starters will be is a bit difficult. First, the team has a giant crater where their power forward spot used to be, and second, they just traded for a traditional center and are about to sign Bagley to a multi-year deal, and his best The position is center, and that’s just two years after drafting Isaiah Stewart, who started all 71 games he played last season.
We’ll just remove the Band-Aid and create an initial alignment:
- Guard: Cade Cunningham
- Shooting guard: Alec Burks
- Forward: Saddiq Bey
- Power striker:
- Center: Nerlens Noël
This starting eleven, I’m sure, is not without controversy. First, I’m putting veteran Alec Burks’ 3-point shooting and defense above shiny new piece and franchise building block Jaden Ivey. But defense and 3-pointers are important, and they’re in short supply in Detroit.
Next, I give Bagley the starting power forward job, but that’s mostly by default. There are really no clear candidates on the list. Would you rather just put Stewart in there and tell him to shoot 6 3s a game? Do you put Kelly Olynyk in there and expect her to physically put up with the grind of chasing down younger, faster players every game? Does he just slow down and start Bey there and look for a new starting small forward? That position is arguably the team’s biggest question mark right now.
Then, in the middle, I’m swapping the tenacious but small Stewart for Noel simply because Noel offers some verticality that Stewart doesn’t and is also a beefier rim protector. However, I would say that at this point, Stewart is the best rebounder despite giving up 3 inches, and he’s also probably the best defender overall because of his versatility.
Ok, now we come to the bank where things get a lot more fun.
- Base: Killian Hayes
- Shooting guard: Jaden Ivey
- Small Forward: Isaiah Livers
- Power Forward: Kelly Olynyk
- Center: Isaiah Stewart
This is acting like the rotation is 10 deep, and we haven’t even factored in returning players Cory Joseph (1,600 minutes last season), Hamidou Diallo (1,269 minutes) or Saben Lee (604 minutes) or the last balloon threat Jalen Duren.
In reality, Casey is unlikely to go to a 10-man rotation, but when things go well, this is likely a bench team he wants to deploy. Imagine the kind of passes Hayes could make to Ivey and Duren with Livers and Olynyk parked on the perimeter?
And when rookies struggle, you turn to your most trusted veterans, with Joseph probably getting the first dibs to spell out the central minutes of Ivey and Duren being sucked into the trio of Olynyk, Bagley and Stewart.
The Pistons have an obvious need for power forward, and also a need to add more perimeter shooting and roughly $18 million to make it happen. The team could sign a viable new starting power forward (say, Otto Porter Jr. or Bobby Portis), but that only exacerbates the glut of big men.
I think it’s perfectly fair to assume a trade is on the horizon, and players who should probably pack include Olynyk, Lee, Joseph, Diallo, Stewart and Hayes. I’m not saying they’ll all be traded, and I’m not even saying most of them will be given away. But if Weaver is looking to further strengthen and balance the roster, those are likely the names he’s trying to get into deals.
Why God why?
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 watched the inning game or even the playoffs.
How unlikely all of that was, Detroit ended up with some reliable veterans on expiring deals, a renewed commitment to developing its youngsters with the fortuitous and perhaps unexpected addition of Ivey and Duren, and only an absolute metric ton of space and salary cap flexibility. going forward.
As competent veterans on expiring deals, Noel and Burks can help Detroit on the floor and be traded at the deadline to contenders for a real asset. If the Pistons struggle again this year, the upcoming draft is absurdly deep and you feel like you can land a real impact player in the top eight of the draft.
And if Noel and Burks stay past the deadline, Detroit has the ability to keep them and fill a void or decline their option and go on the big game, but this time for real.
Detroit’s salary cap is absurdly clean next season. The Pistons will see $8.9 million in dead money come off the books for DeAndre Jordan and Zhaire Smith. They also only have $3 million guaranteed for Olynyk.
If he brings back Cade, Killian, Beef Stew, Saddiq, Livers, Ivey and Duren, he’ll only see salary commitments of $45 million in 2023-24. The salary cap is projected to be approximately $132 million.
I imagine Troy Weaver could think of ways to use nearly $90 million in cap space, and I’m sure he’ll do so with an eye toward building a team that can win now and for the foreseeable future.