The Detroit Pistons left Barclays Center Thursday night heading for free agency with Spencer Dinwiddie in tow. They also have an armored truck with at least $20 million to deliver. If (read: when) they decline options on Chauncey Billups and Josh Harrellson, the truck gains another $3.5 million.
So, which doors should the armed delivery men knock on this summer? And how did we get to this point?
What's been going on lately?
In a flash: Detroit finishes the 2013-14 season with a 29-53 record, fifth worst in the East and eighth lowest overall. Head coach Maurice Cheeks is fired in February and replaced by assistant John Loyer. The Pistons continue being the Pistons, and lure Stan Van Gundy out of retirement in May with the highly sought after coach/team president power grab. So he gets to start by adding a lottery pick to a disjointed but individually talented roster, right...?
Once upon a time two years ago almost to the day, former team president Joe Dumars made what looked to be a savvy move. He sent Ben Gordon's two years and $25 million and a protected future first-round pick to Michael Jordan's Bobcats in exchange for Corey Maggette's last hurrah. The move saved Detroit $15 million, though that became Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings one year later.
Unfortunately, the Pistons had to pay the draft piper in year two on account of rotten luck. When Cleveland vaulted everyone to grab the top pick in the draft, Detroit dropped from their likely eighth spot (the last protected one in the Gordon trade). Having lost out on protection for their earned shot at the lottery, the Pistons conveyed that valuable No. 9 selection to the new Charlotte Hornets.
Only the eighth pick in the second round remained, and with it Stan Van Gundy chose the University of Colorado point guard recovering from a January torn ACL. But there's reason for optimism with Dinwiddie. ESPN Insider and NBA draft expert Chad Ford wrote in his post-draft grade that the 6'6" point guard had lottery potential prior to the injury (subscription required).
Though Dinwiddie is projected to contribute further down the road as his knee recovers and strengthens, Detroit's crowded backcourt will need some shaking out before he can make his case. Will Bynum and Peyton Siva are ahead of him in line behind Jennings. They could also elect to use him as a combo guard to challenge Kyle Singler and last year's lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The summer ahead: Monroe or Smith?
Aside from the lone selection, Detroit participated—whether willingly or by name only—in plenty of draft-time trade chatter. I like to call it chattah.
Though in the end it is all for naught, the move would simultaneously sting and feel like a sense of relief. Detroit breaks up the misguided and crowded Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond trio and allows Van Gundy to match any offer at Monroe's restricted free agency.
This should be the theme of Detroit's summer. Smith had his worst season as a pro in the Motor City, shooting a career-low 41.9 percent from the field. He also recorded a dreadful .264 three-point shooting percentage, jacking nearly 3.5 threes a night. Monroe, meanwhile, stayed relatively close to his 2012-13 level of production. The sweetener is that Monroe has already played four seasons in the NBA but is only a year older than some of the players drafted Thursday.
All indications are that Van Gundy is on board with this notion. MLive reporter David Mayo reports that Van Gundy would prefer to have the 6'11" power forward on his roster than not. "I think teams think it's better, especially with younger guys, to have an asset, even if he's overpaid, that can bring value down the road, than to have a guy go for nothing," Van Gundy said.
Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin believes the Pistons boss will match a projected max offer of four years, $63 million, leaving $10 million in cap space. That doesn't mean he won't listen to sign-and-trade offers since Smith's contract could easily prove unmovable.
I like Monroe's game and think he can develop another few feet of range with proper coaching. The opportunity to trot out such talented twin towers doesn't come too often, so let's hope Van Gundy is shrewd in assessing trade proposals.
That's not it, though, right?
Assuming the right decision is made and Monroe sticks around, SVG will need to consider unloading Smith and address his guard situation. Predicting a trade for Smith, now that Sacramento has ended talks, is difficult with the preps-to-pros star still owed $40.5 million over three years.
If Dinwiddie is to learn the point, some of that leftover $10 million should go to forcing either Singler or Caldwell-Pope out of the rotation. Both guys have upside but neither player made a huge impact last season. Singler deserves a shot at being a key role player. Caldwell-Pope can retain his starting spot if Detroit wants to return to the lottery. Avery Bradley could probably be had for most of that and cap the roster.
The other idea is to dangle Brandon Jennings in a package to a team in need of a scoring point guard. Though they'll certainly get a lower return than what Jennings' contract suggests, the Pistons can stand to absorb a small hit to remove the defensive pariah. Perhaps Indiana can be convinced that he's an upgrade over George Hill or oblige Boston in taking Rajon Rondo off their hands.
The long con
Van Gundy can also opt to sit tight another year. Maybe Smith works out the kinks, and the frontcourt trio dominates as they were meant to.
Aside from any money given to Monroe, only Smith and Jennings will be under contract in the summer of 2015. The three would combine for around $36 million, assuming a sliding scale on Monroe's max contract. Jennings would serve as the mother of all trade bait with an $8 million expiring contract.
All Van Gundy has to do is convince the game's top players that Detroit Auburn Hills is a delightful place to live.
All salary information taken from Spotrac.com.