As the Detroit Pistons limp to the merciful end of a supremely disappointing season, most pundits have begun speculating on what is going to happen next for this team.
Given that Detroit has obvious holes to fill (frontcourt scorer/rebounder, point guard) and some talented potential bargaining chips (Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, maybe even Rodney Stuckey?), it is easy to see that something has to give.
This team is backcourt loaded and simply can not compete with the mediocre, let alone the elite, teams in the Eastern Conference.
In years past, this time of the season would involve Pistons fans getting some last minute chores out of the way so that they would not miss a minute of the expected additional two months of basketball season that surely awaited at the end of April.
Sadly, this year those fans are reduced to looking forward to potential deals that could improve the Pistons enough to bring them back up to respectability, a tradition typically directed towards the Detroit Lions.
But that is the reality Pistons fans are facing. Two factors, an expected reduction in the salary cap and a few disastrous deals, have the Pistons caught between a rock and a hard place a few months before a very exciting offseason begins.
So before I start seeing outlandish trade proposals online from myopic fans claiming that Amar'e Stoudemire could be had for Jason Maxiell and a draft pick, I think it is important to take a look at possible moves to ponder as the offseason takes off.
Now, that is not to say that all of these guys are staying put. Actually, I think one of these guys is definitely gone and a second could join him.
Yes, two of these guys could potentially be playing together next year. But that is not what gets me excited because I do not follow their teams. I follow the Pistons, so these guys are of little concern to me right now.
Pistons general manager Joe Dumars knew that he would have an uphill climb to sign one of these guys, the likes of which would have made the marines who stormed Hill 296 during the siege of Inchon in Korea sympathetic (sorry, too much Military Channel today).
As a result, he spent his cash (in my opinion unwisely) last offseason on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, both of whom have floundered in their first season in Detroit.
Regardless, the chance of signing one of those guys even if we had cap space is laughable, and now that we have very little cap space it is impossible.
Speaking of cap space, many believe the salary cap will be $52-$54 million next season.
As of now, Detroit has about $51.4 million committed to its players, which does not include Chris Wilcox's player option of $3 million that he would be insane not to exercise.
Therefore, the only options left for improving the roster lie with the draft (likely a top five pick), trades and the mid level exception (Pistons blogger Dan Feldman reported this week that Joe Dumars is planning on using the mid-level exception this offseason).
But I repeat the elite free agents will not be heading to Detroit.
Now many will be quick to point out that the Pistons still have an ace-in-the-hole in the form of the sign and trade.
The sign and trade, most famously remembered by Pistons fans because of the deal that sent Grant Hill to Orlando for a couple of castoffs named Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace, is a way for teams that are going to lose a free agent to receive at least a little compensation.
What makes sign and trades tricky is that it requires a player to want to sign with the team that is trying to acquire them and Detroit no longer is a very intriguing team for potential free agents. They are young and talented, but the troubles facing metro Detroit are not lost on the players.
Therefore, getting someone like Stoudemire seems like a very remote possibility as he likely would frown on moving from sunny Phoenix to dreary Detroit.
Joe Johnson is another player that fits this mold as reports seem to put him in a New York Knicks jersey next season.
Regardless, Stoudemire's notoriously bad defense and limited offense wouldn't exactly transform Detroit into a powerhouse, and as for Johnson, considering the logjam Dumars already has at shooting guard, the less options for him to ponder for that position, the better.
The Rumor That Just Will Not Die
A recent story by Detroit Free Press Pistons beat writer Vince Ellis floated the idea that the Pistons may again pursue Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, a rumor that has essentially been kicked around for nearly two years now.
Boozer's salary would swap out with Hamilton's.
But the Jazz likely are not looking to add the veteran's salary as they appear to be in cost-cutting mode given their already inflexible monetary situation (after shipping off Ronnie Brewer to lessen their luxury tax hit, they likely will need to chop a couple more million off of the books in order to make next year's threshold).
The only other way they could make a deal work would be to trade for Prince's expiring contract, but then they would also have to take back someone like Wilcox in order to make the money match up.
But why would they take on Prince and Wilcox when they don't really need either of them and they would be in fine shape regardless without Boozer? The answer is that the only way Utah makes a deal with Detroit is if they can get back a young, inexpensive talent like Stuckey or Jonas Jerebko.
So would Dumars trade one of those players?
If you asked me that question a couple months ago, I would give you a definite "no."
But something we have not seen in the past decade is taking shape. There is a real possibility that Dumars sees his job as being less than untouchable.
Now we can debate all day long whether or not Dumars deserves to keep his job, but the fact of the matter is that any day now the Pistons could be under new ownership, and their new owner will not be as married to Dumars as their current owner.
Dumars likes Stuckey and Jerebko a lot, but I'm certain he likes his job even more. If he has a chance to get back someone like Boozer who would (at least on paper) improve the Pistons, I think he might pull the trigger.
But should he?
Boozer is obviously a talented power forward, but what exactly would Detroit gain from him?
Boozer is a legitimate low post scorer that will get you an automatic 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, something that nobody else on the Pistons roster could manage.
However, Boozer is not a strong defender, and at only 6'9" would likely be unable to play alongside Villanueva. Also, he is not a shot blocker, which means that Detroit would also have to make an additional deal in order to shore up the front court.
So if Detroit deals Prince and Stuckey for Boozer, they could then turn around and try to deal Hamilton to Charlotte for Tyson Chandler, reuniting Hamilton with ex-coach Larry Brown, who is the unofficial president of the Rip Hamilton Admiration Society.
Or perhaps they scrap the Boozer deal altogether but still go after Chandler which could lead to...
The Absolutely Positively Biggest Long-shot Deal Imaginable
The Pistons make a serious run at arguably the best point guard on the planet, Chris Paul.
Okay, hear me out here. I know, I know, why would New Orleans deal their talented point guard.
Actually, this makes more sense than you may realize. New Orleans is in a serious bind. They have been guilty of some deals that would make Dumars blush. They are seriously over the salary cap, and they will remain in that situation next year as well.
They play in an economically ravaged area that is light on corporate powerhouses and heavy on empty seats.
They are on the hook for an average of $16 million over the next three years to Paul and besides Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract next year, they are fairly inflexible financially.
Additionally, Paul has been upset for the past year over management dealing his close friend Chandler and firing head coach Byron Scott. Furthermore, ownership is rumored to be in trouble financially and looking to unload salaries.
These issues alone would make Paul a logical choice to be moved. However, there is an even bigger issue involved: the emergence of backup point guard Darren Collison.
A couple months ago, Paul injured his knee in a game against Chicago. What was assumed to be a devastation that would end the Hornets' season turned into a blessing in disguise as Collison stepped into Paul's shoes without skipping a beat.
Collison averaged 19 points and over nine assists per game, essentially equaling Paul in every way. Opponents whispered that Collison was nearly indistinguishable from Paul.
Obviously stats only tell so much of the story, and Paul has plenty of value to New Orleans.
However, is he worth $15 million more per year than his potential replacement?
That is how much more Paul is slated to earn than Collison in the last year of his contract in 2012-13.
So assuming New Orleans would be listening, what would it take for Detroit to land the guard?
Obviously, salaries are going to have to match up so Detroit would have to put together a few players. Assuming New Orleans would want young, inexpensive players and salary relief, Detroit's options are limited.
Would New Orleans bite at a Prince, Stuckey, Wilcox, and draft picks deal for Paul?
Why wouldn't they?
They would gain financial flexibility with two expiring contracts, they would have a talented shooting guard to pair with Collison, and they would have draft picks which would help keep them competing for years to come.
Add to that their talented front court of Emeka Okafor and David West, and you are looking at a team that could contend for the next handful of years.
So would Detroit pull the trigger on that deal, even if it meant dealing their lottery pick this year?
I think Dumars would have to make this deal, giving the Pistons their most explosive point guard since Isiah Thomas, a player that Paul is often compared to.
And despite his large salary, Dumars has enough young talent to make Detroit an instant contender.
So will it happen?
Probably not. But that is why this time of year is so intriguing to armchair general managers.
Just ask the Lions fans.