When the lockout finally ended, the big buzz going around the NBA was regarding the amnesty clause. The league's version of a get-out-of-jail-free card was going to be a godsend for the Detroit Pistons and many other teams because it offered a painless way to rid themselves of lousy contracts.
This wasn't the first time the NBA enacted this kind of rule, though. In 2005, the "Allen Houston rule" allowed teams to waive one terrible contract. While the player still got paid and their salary still counted against the cap, the team didn't have to pay the luxury tax.
In 2011, the amnesty clause went a step further. Teams could dump a player and their contract, not pay the luxury tax and the salary would NOT count against the cap. Teams rejoiced, but not many acted decisively.
Teams can use the amnesty clause until the 2015-2016 season so there was no rush.
The Detroit Pistons would certainly benefit from using amnesty this summer; many fans wish they would have used it already.
These are my predictions about how the amnesty clause will impact the Pistons as well as how it might impact their outlook in free agency.
Fans and media alike predicted that Dumars and the Detroit Pistons would be among the first teams to take advantage of the amnesty clause in 2011. Obviously, that never happened.
While some fans burned Piston flags and chastised Dumars for sitting idle, I did not. It was the right move. Why rush into something that can be used for four more years? Dumars only has one shot at this, and he wants to make sure he makes the right decision.
It's not like the Pistons were predicted to be championship contenders any way. This season was going to be a rebuilding effort from day one, so why not use that time to see which players are dogs and who can play?
Make no mistake—that's what Dumars is doing.
The whole point of amnesty is to free up cap space so you can sign better players. If Dumars had used the amnesty clause right away, he would have had a weak NBA talent pool to choose from. The 2012 free agent class is much stronger.
Not that the Pistons have much of a chance to sign Dwight Howard or Deron Williams, the most sought after free agents. Not to worry, there are other quality players to be had that might be more in Detroit's price range.
But first, Dumars must pull the trigger on the amnesty clause. In my mind, there are two obvious directions he could go in.
This is the obvious choice if you are thinking strictly from the financial side of things. He makes the most money on the team, and his production hasn't come close to matching the investment.
That said, he's shown improvement this year from last. His scoring average is on the rise (13.6 points a game) and his three point percentage (.419) is the highest it's been since 2005-2006. At times he's looked like the offensive dynamo that the Pistons signed him to be.
That certainly isn't worth $37.2 million, though. That's how much the Pistons owe him over the next three years.
Personally, I think Gordon offers more upside than the Pistons' other amnesty choice. When used properly, I think he can be very effective. He's also a veteran, and his leadership and locker room presence might be useful as this team will probably get even younger next year.
The other option is....
The Pistons owe him approximately $24 million over the next three years. For 11 points and three rebounds a game, that's a waste.
He's only played in two games this season due to an ankle injury, but according to this Detroit News article, he is close to returning.
It makes no difference. The season is shot. He'll come back, he'll need time to get back into game shape, and then this shortened season will be over.
The scary thing is his averages with Milwaukee were not far from what we've seen with Detroit. So, unlike Gordon—who can play much better—there's not a high ceiling with Villanueva. That also limits the trade interest that Dumars can garner.
In other words, I believe the Pistons will use the amnesty clause on Villanueva over Gordon.
Like I said, I think the Pistons will dump Villanueva over Gordon. While Gordon can still be effective, I don't think he fits into the Pistons' long term plans. He hasn't shown enough improvement this year to change that.
The Pistons are rebuilding, and if a player is not in their long term plans, there will be no reason to keep him.
Gordon is still young enough, and talented enough, to garner attention on the trade market. Some contender will need an offensive spark off the bench for their playoff run and will gladly trade one or two lesser known players.
This is where Dumars needs to earn his money. He's picked out diamonds in the rough before. In fact, the 2004 championship team was built on these kinds of players.
Ideally, he would be able to trade Gordon and get two players for less money who can contribute immediately. Sounds easy right?
Here are two players from five teams that I think Dumars could realistically target for trade consideration. All are young players whose contracts would have minimal impact on the salary cap. None of these players—except for Landry Fields—are starters.
About a week ago, Ben Wallace—arguably the most important Piston of the last decade—announced that this would be his last season in Detroit. He is going to retire at the end of the year, and he will be greatly missed.
Rumors that Jason Maxiell is on the trading block (via Mlive) have been around for two years, and I see little reason for Detroit to keep him and his $5 million contract around any longer. He's a nice player, for sure, but what he does can be had for a much cheaper price.
Let's assume that Wallace and Maxiell will both be gone. If my prediction that the Pistons will unload Gordon and Villanueva is correct, then they'll be facing quite a dilemma. They'll have a huge amount of salary cap space to play with, but they'll also have a huge hole in their front court.
To be competitive in the NBA, this will have to be remedied, and I believe that it will be through free agency.
Again, Joe Dumars will have his work cut out for him, but it's not an impossible task. The 2012 free agent class is one of the best ever. Even if you ignore Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, there are plenty of guys that could immediately make them better.
Here are three players the Pistons should target. I'd include JaVale McGee, but since I wrote this article about him last week, I'd only be repeating myself.
This fourth-year power forward is having the best year of his career. He might not be the defensive presence that the Pistons are looking for, but he can score, shoot the three and rebound a little bit too.
At 23 years old. he's hitting his prime, and he's shown what he can do when given apt playing time. He'll be a restricted free agent this summer, so Orlando would have an opportunity to match any offer.
Orlando might not let Anderson go. Faced with the impending loss of Dwight Howard, they might want to hold on to their bigs.
The price would also have to be right for Detroit. Since he's having his best year, the price could be high. However, there will be a bunch of quality big men available, so the price might stay reasonable.
When healthy, he is the type of player Detroit needs: an athletic seven-footer who can score in a variety of ways, rebound and block shots.
Because of his injury, the price for Lopez might be lower than once expected. He's also a restricted free agent, so New Jersey can match any offer.
The Nets will be faced with signing Deron Williams and are major players in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Lopez was the key player involved in trade talks with Orlando for Howard. So who knows if he'll even be with New Jersey by the time he's a free agent.
Regardless of the unknown factor, Lopez is the type of player Detroit needs. That is clear.
Unlike Anderson, Hibbert is exactly what the Pistons need: an imposing center who can dominate a game with his defense, offense or both. Plus he would allow Greg Monroe to move over to the power forward position.
Monroe and Hibbert—now that's a front court!
The Pacers chose not to extend Hibbert's contract in January. This is an indication that they probably won't resign him. It's also an indication that it will take max money to sign him. Whether the Pistons will be players remains to be seen.
If my predictions are true, they will have the cap space to do it, though.