Detroit Pistons Must Retain Jose Calderon at All Costs
For years the Detroit Pistons toiled without a true point guard. After dealing Chauncey Billups four years ago, this team did its best to get by running out combo guards to run the show.
This proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Rodney Stuckey and then Brandon Knight both showed over the last few years that they have value in this league, but neither is ready to lead a team on the court.
Both lack the instincts and court vision at this time to effectively set up teammates and open up the court for a spread-out offense.
So this year, the Pistons finally decided to bring in a true point guard to see how he would fare with the current roster. In all likelihood, the point was to figure out whether or not the current roster would fare better with a true point guard.
All in all, the trade for Jose Calderon has been a rousing success. Sure, the Pistons are still losing at a torrid pace, but that has a lot more to do with the team losing its most effective (at least statistically) player, Andre Drummond, to injury shortly after the trade.
Prior to Drummond's injury, the second unit was the heart of the team. The first unit came in and played sluggishly and the reserves would step up and yank their fannies out of the fire.
The combination of Will Bynum and Drummond in particular was a joy to behold and was the key to the second squad's success.
Since Drummond went down, the roles of these two units has reversed. Calderon has been leading the starters on early-game tears, only to have the bench squander leads.
So far, we haven't been able to accurately assess the team as a whole since the trade. But it is safe to say Calderon has been a welcomed addition to this team.
And that is why the Pistons must retain their new floor general.
True point guards are hard to find
So why haven't the Pistons brought in a point guard before Calderon?
The truth of the matter is that there aren't a ton of point guards of Calderon's caliber out there.
The NBA has become a point-guard driven league and therefore teams tend to hold onto their point guards, young and old alike, for as long as they can. And given how team's have an advantage in re-signing their own free agents to more money than a prospective suitor, they generally are successful in keeping their guys.
And when they do force their way out of town, they generally command a king's ransom, their own destinations or both.
Since then, they have not been involved in substantive rumors for good point guards until now.
Looking at the free-agent landscape for this year, there don't appear to be many external options available to fill Calderon's shoes.
Paul will likely be re-signed by the Los Angeles Clippers, but even if he doesn't he is the longest of long shots to land in Detroit.
Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, meaning the Milwaukee Bucks can match any offer. In all likelihood, they will or else they would have dealt him before the trade deadline in February.
After that, it is mainly castoffs or career backups like Jarrett Jack and Randy Foye.
The only real option in free agency to run this team effectively is Calderon. The Pistons must keep him in town.
However, they must keep their heads about it.
The Pistons need to sign Calderon, but they can't be crazy about it. They can't offer a textbook Joe Dumars crazy deal that completely overvalues a player and does so without outside competition in the signing.
Dumars made those kinds of deals for Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Stuckey over the last four years and he can't afford to make another one.
The Pistons can't sign Calderon to a four-or-more-year contract. He is already 31 and never was super athletic to begin with. He certainly has a few more good years left, perhaps as many as five or six. Remember, Steve Nash was around the same age when the Dallas Mavericks decided to let him walk and he won two MVPs with the Phoenix Suns as a result and is just now showing major slippage at 38.
Billups also was let go around this age and has been a constant reminder over the years that that was a mistake.
But signing an aging point guard to a long contract will unwisely tie the hands of this franchise just as they are finally getting some financial stability and flexibility.
They have wisely unloaded the bulk of their big deals and are left with not only loads of salary cap space, but the flexibility to re-sign their current core once their rookie contracts come up.
This team is finally forging a clear direction forward and they can't mess that up by signing Calderon to a crazy Dumars deal.
Sign and pivot
The Pistons should do all they can to re-sign Calderon. But they need to sign him to a contract that keeps their financial flexibility intact.
That's why they should do all they can do sign him to a short but sweet deal.
If I were Dumars, I would work hard at a two-year deal. Make the onus on how he needs to help this team now, future be damned. Give him a player option for a third year so that he feels like he has some flexibility as well if this team isn't winning.
That would be the hard part seeing as there are so few good options out there and still a few teams that need a good point guard. The Pistons might actually be bidding with a real team this time.
What happens if a team like the Sacramento Kings (or perhaps Seattle Supersonics by then) offers him five years? The Pistons would be wise to just let him go.
The easy part is the money. The Pistons could really offer him whatever he wanted, but hopefully they could keep it below $10 million per year.
But what then? Say everything goes perfectly according to plan and the Pistons re-sign Calderon to a two-year deal with a player option for a grand total of $27 million.
This still doesn't figure out their long-term solution at the position.
That's why the Pistons should draft their point guard of the future this year in Michigan's Trey Burke.
Burke has been the best player in the nation this season, showing advanced skill at the point guard position.
Currently, he is ranked by most scouts as a late lottery pick, but this shouldn't deter the Pistons. Burke is certain to have an excellent NCAA Tournament and should be in the conversation to be a top-10 pick by June.
If the Pistons draft Burke, they will have their point guard of the future, plus an insurance policy. They can let Burke mature on the bench, leading the second unit into action. This will allow Burke's body to mature and take pressure off of the rookie.
Then after a year watching from the sidelines, Burke hopefully will be ready and can be thrust into the starting unit.
This gives the Pistons two options. Either they can choose to keep Calderon as an expensive bench player to lead the reserves, or they can deal him and his suddenly very manageable contract.
This gives the Pistons not only one but two true point guards to go along with cap flexibility and a trading chip.
Now for the real tricky part: Hoping Dumars gets it right.
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