Report Card Grades for Detroit Pistons' 2014 Offseason so Far
After five consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance and with a large number of personnel decisions to be made, there was no doubt that this was going to be a pivotal offseason for the direction of the Detroit Pistons.
After his second season as majority owner, Tom Gores wanted changes throughout the organization. Team president Joe Dumars did not have his contract renewed. Head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired in February. Interim coach John Loyer was retained only as an assistant.
A roster shakeup was expected as well after a 29-win campaign. Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva—who was 140-254 (.355 winning percentage) as a Piston—had expiring contracts totaling $17 million. Along with that cap space, the team also had an early second-round pick in one of the deepest drafts ever to help remake the team.
The offseason is far from over, and the Pistons still have plenty of room to maneuver. But they have been one of the most active teams in the NBA since the San Antonio Spurs won Game 5—a good thing since the Pistons' last winning season came in 2007-08.
Stan Van Gundy: Signed as Coach and Team President
After unsuccessful stints with relatively mundane coaches since 2008—Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank and Cheeks—Gore made a very splashy hire by bringing in Stan Van Gundy as both coach and team president.
The contract, for five years and $35 million, is a pricey one. But since there is no cap on contracts for coaches or front office personnel, the deal only directly affects Gores' bottom line. And it's the right price to bring in a marquee coach who instantly adds a much-needed boost to the organization's reputation.
In eight seasons as an NBA coach for the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, Van Gundy had a 371-208 record, good for a .641 winning percentage. That places him No. 8 all-time among coaches with at least 100 games under their belt, per Basketball-Reference.com. He also made the 2009 NBA Finals with the Magic.
And not only is he an excellent coach, but he appears to be a great fit for the Pistons roster. He comes to a team with a future star down low in Andre Drummond and another very good big man in Greg Monroe.
There are still plenty of challenges to overcome. Van Gundy surrounded Howard with four shooters in Orlando; the Pistons had the No. 29 three-point percentage in the NBA in 2013-14. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith have had chemistry issues, which in part led to Cheeks' firing. And Howard, the guy who helped get Van Gundy fired in Orlando, is very good friends with Smith.
And there's the whole Detroit-won-29-games-last-season thing Van Gundy has to overcome.
But even if it's difficult for the Pistons to bring in elite free agents, they brought in an elite coach. And while this is his first go-around as a team president, Van Gundy will almost certainly be an upgrade at that position as well.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Drafted No. 38
The Pistons had no first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft due to an extremely short-sighted trade two summers prior, but they still managed to find a highly talented player in Round 2.
Van Gundy selected Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie with the No. 38 pick with his first-ever roster decision as team president. Dinwiddie suffered a major knee injury before the end of the 2013-14 season, which many analysts believe caused his draft stock to drop.
"He's a first-round talent," ESPN's Jay Bilas said after the pick was made. "Absent of the ACL injury, he would have been taken in the first round."
Whenever he does make his return to the court—the Pistons are refusing to give a timetable—the Pistons will add a talented, 6'6" combo guard to their roster. In his third and final season at Colorado, Dinwiddie averaged nearly 15 points while shooting 41 percent from the arc—Van Gundy loves shooters. Dinwiddie also did a good job of limiting turnovers—less than two per game—and forced a fair share on the opposition, averaging 1.5 steals.
Dinwiddie's size and positional flexibility will allow him to either back up incumbent point guard Brandon Jennings or play next to him, allowing the diminutive Jennings to operate in his natural role as a scorer while still defending opposing point guards.
"Any team willing to endure a couple of months of rust as Dinwiddie works his way back will be rewarded with a combo guard big enough to defend both guard spots and a solid outside shooter," ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton wrote (subscription required).
Dinwiddie is big, talented and confident and fills needs positionally and in skill set. And as a bonus he already has some of the best facial hair in the league. If he was fully healthy, there would be no concern with this pick.
Chauncey Billups: Team Option Declined
Chauncey Billups will always be one of the greatest players in franchise history, but Van Gundy made the correct—and surely difficult—decision to part ways with the 37-year-old point guard.
In his first stint in Detroit from 2003 to 2008, Billups made three All-Star teams and earned All-NBA (2005-06 and 2006-07) and All-NBA Defensive (2004-05 and 2005-06) team nods. He was also leader of the 2004 championship team—the third in franchise history—and was named the Finals MVP. His jersey will hang in the rafters of the Palace before long.
But declining to pick up his $2.5 million team option for the 2014-15 was a no-brainer.
Billups has seen his body break down over the past three seasons, playing just 61 games over that span. He began the 2013-14 campaign as the Pistons' starting shooting guard but played merely 309 minutes the entire season.
The Pistons could no longer count on him as part of their rotation, and moving on allowed the team to free up cap space and a roster spot—which is key for a team with 15 players last season.
Billups told BasketballInsiders.com that he feels healthy and would strongly consider playing for a championship contender.
"I want to play for something; I don’t just want to play, I want to play to win," he said. "That’s the number one criteria—a team that has championship aspirations."
But there's still a good possibility that he played his last career game in a Pistons uniform and will move into an NBA front office.
Wherever Billups goes from here, there is no doubt that the rebuilding Pistons had to let him walk.
Cartier Martin: Agreed to Free-Agent Contract
In an effort to add depth on the wing, the Pistons agreed to a deal with veteran swingman Cartier Martin.
While Martin is a career backup, the signing signifies Van Gundy's desire to move away from playing three big men at the same time. Last season the Pistons had only one traditional small forward earning playing time—Kyle Singler—on the roster to take time from Josh Smith. Even if they don't add another player, Singler, Martin and Luigi Datome could play all 48 minutes at the 3.
Martin may play no more than 15 minutes per game, but he'll help to bolster the offense and space the floor. He shot 42 percent from the field last season and 39 percent from beyond the arc, a mark that would have been second-best for the Pistons. He also ranked No. 1 in the NBA at 1.33 points in "off screen" situations, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). He'll definitely improve what was a fairly weak bench unit in scoring the ball.
Martin is a subpar defender and ultimately won't move the needle too much for the Pistons, but it's a useful signing at the ideal price.
Jodie Meeks: Agreed to Free-Agent Contract
Heading into free agency, it wasn't exactly a secret that the Pistons would be looking to improve on the perimeter and add shooting with their cap space.
They did just that on the first day they could speak with players, agreeing to a three-year deal worth nearly $20 million with shooting guard Jodie Meeks.
Meeks had nice season in L.A., but that's a lot of dough for Jodie Meeks. Wow. Maybe DET anticipated some team over cap giving him mid-level— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 1, 2014
The contract is richer than anyone expected for Meeks, who is coming off a career year for the hapless Los Angeles Lakers under offensive guru Mike D'Antoni. Meeks had career highs in scoring average (15.7), field-goal percentage (46.3) and three-point percentage (40.1).
But he will be only 27 when the season begins and in his prime basketball years throughout the deal. His skills fill the biggest areas of need for the Pistons. And this free-agent market has seen a number of players command bigger deals than expected.
Teams are paranoid about the glut of cap space around the league, and fearful of waiting for other teams to strike out on bigger FAs.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 2, 2014
And even if it was under D'Antoni, Meeks was very good offensively in 2013-14. He was a borderline-elite three-point shooter, but he also added other elements to his game. He learned to attack the basket off handoffs, scoring 0.91 points per such play, per Synergy. And the 1.39 points per play he scored on "cut" plays ranked No. 22 in the league, per Synergy.
Overall, he averaged 1.09 points per play that ended in a field-goal attempt, turnover or free throw, which was good for No. 10 in the entire league. While he certainly isn't an elite offensive player and benefited from the Lakers system last season, that kind of efficiency is rare.
Again, the contract is not ideal, and Meeks plays the same position as 2013 first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But the dollar amount isn't absurd, and the Pistons have to pay a premium for free agents as a cold-weather team that hasn't made the playoffs in five seasons.
Aaron Gray: Agreed to Free-Agent Contract
While all the moves the Pistons made to bolster their perimeter play make sense on paper, their lone frontcourt change thus far was a surprise.
The Pistons reportedly agreed to a multiyear deal with reserve center Aaron Gray, per Sam Amick of USA Today. The 7-footer will likely make the veteran's minimum.
The cost of the deal is certainly not an issue, and "multiyear deal" could mean simply a team option for 2015-16. But Gray just doesn't seem to fit on this team.
At 7'0" and 270 pounds, he is a true center with limited mobility and no outside game. He doesn't fit next to Drummond, which is fine because that's the guy he will be behind on the depth chart. But nominal power forward Monroe may actually be more effective when operating at center, and it would make sense for him to play there whenever Drummond heads to the bench. And like with Drummond, Gray and Monroe also seem like a terrible basketball duo.
So if Monroe is expected to return, what is the point of signing Gray?
With two traditional bigs already on the roster and Van Gundy's history, it seemed like the Pistons would fill this roster spot with a guy who could stretch the court. Someone like Josh Harrellson, a mobile big man with three-point range who could be signed on the cheap.
Oh yeah, Harrellson is already with the Pistons, though his $948,163 salary in 2014-15 is only partially guaranteed. And with Gray joining the roster, it seems inevitable that Harrellson's time in Detroit is up.
On with the next chapter of my life!— Josh Harrellson (@BigJorts55) July 9, 2014
Van Gundy's preference in backup centers certainly won't make or break the Pistons' 2014-15 season, but the move is nonetheless perplexing. There is certainly some reason for the decision; likely Van Gundy sees a need for Gray's body when looking at a Eastern Conference playoff landscape that will feature the behemoth front lines of the Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets.
But the Pistons were a terrible shooting team last season, and big men like Drummond and Monroe can use all the floor spacing they can get.
This is the only move that Van Gundy has made this offseason that ignores those two points.
Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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