Beard: Pistons get better without blockbuster move
The Pistons finished their shopping in free agency, saving their biggest-ticket item for last. They picked up point guard Ish Smith, power forward Jon Leuer and center Boban Marjanovic to bolster the bench before signing starting center Andre Drummond to a max contract.
The signings reflect their improved status in the league, in that they weren’t looking to fill a void in their starting five. Rather, they filled the pantry with practical pieces that will be a bigger boost for the bench, which was rated one of the worst in the league last season.
Coach Stan Van Gundy accentuated the need for internal improvement instead of counting on a savior-type player arriving in Detroit. But the deals also make the Pistons versatile enough to play many different modes and styles, and to be versatile enough to defend various lineups.
“We’ve got answers to small lineups, big lineups, teams that want to play two point guards together, or no point guard,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think there’s anything people can throw at us that we don’t have good options to go to.
“Now it’s a matter of everybody on our team working and getting better. We said to our team and coaching staff that we thought we could go out and improve our depth but most of the improvement would have to come internally.”
Van Gundy said that development is different for each player, but the constant is coming to training camp in the fall in the best physical shapes of their careers, with some work on their weaknesses.
With the roster reshaping done, The Monday Drive takes a look at 10 takeaways from the Pistons’ moves free agency and around the league:
1. Not breaking the bank: In making their three deals with new players, they only committed about $80 million. That’s not a significant amount in the new era of the salary cap, filling three needed positions on their bench. Also, the salaries for Reggie Jackson ($16 million) and Tobias Harris ($17 million) look like bargains comparatively. Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower continue to excel in this area.
2. All together now: The majority of the roster’s core is under contract for the next couple of years, potentially giving them several shots at contending. With their youth and athleticism among the starters and bench, they’ll be a tough matchup if they can continue the development they started last year.
3. Are you down with KCP? Two exceptions are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aron Baynes, both of whom could be gone after next season. Caldwell-Pope will become a restricted free agent, unless the Pistons can reach an agreement — which is unlikely — and Baynes can opt out of his contract to seek a bigger contract — which is likely.
4. Hack-a-big-man: The new rules regarding deliberate fouls didn’t help the Pistons much. Instead of radical changes such as letting a team pick a free-throw shooter or giving two free throws and possession, the NBA opted to extend the existing rule to the final two minutes of each quarter and overtime. Were there teams that fouled intentionally in the final minutes of the first quarter?
5. Getting the point: The final roster spot looks to be coming down to either Lorenzo Brown or potentially Steve Blake as the third point guard. Blake, 36, was the backup last year, but Smith has that spot now. The Pistons could use Blake’s experience and savvy, but Brown was one of the best players in summer league and has better height and athleticism.
6. Not so fast, champs: Kevin Durant shocked the league with his decision to go to the Warriors — and they’re the heavy favorites to win the title — but don’t just hand them the trophy yet. Weren’t they the favorites to win it this year before they were derailed by the Cavaliers? There’s still a whole season and playoffs to play to decide the champion.
7. Standing pat: While several teams made significant improvements in free agency, the Cavaliers didn’t make any big additions, while losing Timofey Mozgov (Lakers) and Matthew Dellavedova (Bucks). That could help teams like the Pistons, Celtics and Hawks to close the gap and dethrone the champs.
8. New faces, new places: It’s going to be weird to see several players in new jerseys. Durant (Warriors), Dwyane Wade (Bulls), Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (Knicks), Dwight Howard (Hawks) and Al Horford (Celtics) are changing scenery, but besides Durant, none is expected to catapult his team into the elite level of contenders.
9. Tipping the cap: The salary cap, which rose to $94 million this summer, was expected to take another huge jump next year, to about $110 million. That number may be slightly lower, which could impact how certain teams — such as the Pistons reaching now for Marjanovic — deal with free agents this year and next year.
10. Florida follies: What are the Heat and Magic doing? Pat Riley chose Hassan Whiteside and other “priorities” over Wade, with some bitterness on the way out — which Riley said he regretted. And the Magic gave up Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova for Serge Ibaka. What gives? There doesn’t seem to be a clear direction in either case — unless that direction is downward.