This offseason could be pivotal for the Detroit Pistons. After a 23-59 record, Detroit holds a three-way tie for the best odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery.
In addition to a potential top draft pick, the Pistons also enter the offseason with plenty of cap space. The dead money from the Blake Griffin buy-out is off the books, opening up $29.7 million in cap space. In free agency, the Pistons will have enough room to offer a near-max contract.
Before the Pistons can enter free agency, the front office has to make decisions on their own pending free agents. Two players are on expiring contracts, four if you include guys on two-way deals. Seven players have team options, and one has a player option.
Of the players with team options, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes and Hamidou Diallo are without question having their options picked up. As for the player option, there is no way Cory Joseph declines it, unless he wants to move to another team. The roughly $5 million salary is more than he would receive on the open market, so Joseph will return unless he wants to move to a contender.
As for the tw0-way guys, Braxton Key and Jamorko Pickett will likely return on either two-way or G-League contracts. The Pistons will look to continue developing them, but they will not garner a full contract with Detroit this offseason.
With those decisions almost certainly set in place, Detroit has five pending free agents or team options to decide on. Some decisions will be easier than others. Here is a look at the players the Pistons have to make a decision on before free agency, and my predictions on what the franchise chooses.
Restricted free agents
Marvin Bagley III- Re-sign
Marvin Bagley III rejuvenated his career when he arrived in Detroit after the trade deadline. During his tenure with the Sacramento Kings, Bagley performed fine, definitely nothing to write home about, but he was fine. However, in his three and a half-ish seasons with the Kings, something was always off.
With Detroit, Bagley started to settle in as an NBA player. He averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 18 games with the Pistons. The 23-year-old is a springy lob threat with floor spacing potential. Bagley still has plenty of room for improvement, and he leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the court. However, the Pistons should be able to bring the young power forward back without breaking the bank.
As a restricted free agent, Bagley has a qualifying offer of $7.2 million. Certainly, the Pistons front office would love to re-sign the big man on a contract of around $21.6 million over three years. But after performing admirably in his 18 games as a Piston, Bagley may have pushed that number up to closer to $30 million over three years.
Unless another team offers Bagley a hefty contract (spoiler alert: not going to happen), the 23-year-old will be back in Detroit for the 2022-23 season.
Unrestricted free agents
Rodney McGruder– Let go (as much as it pains me)
Rodney McGruder was one of Detroit’s best shooters this season. The veteran wing shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc on 2.9 attempts per game. In 51 games, including two starts, McGruder averaged 5.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14.8 minutes per contest. He was just solid all season.
The 30-year-old was a veteran presence for a Pistons roster that was one of the youngest in the NBA this past season. His box score contributions can be replicated by a younger player with more upside.
It is certainly a possibility that McGruder returns to Detroit’s roster next season. If they strike out on other free agents, Detroit could decide to bring him back simply for that veteran presence and depth shooting. However, his return should not be expected.
Frank Jackson– Accept
The 2021-22 season was not the greatest for Frank Jackson. His 9.1 field goal attempts and 5.3 three-point attempts per game were both career-highs. His increased workload resulted in a career-high 10.6 points per game, but he also shot a career-low 30.8 percent from beyond the arc. Just a season removed from being one of Detroit’s best three-point shooters (40.7 percent in 2020-21), Jackson was statistically one of their worst.
Injuries derailed Jackson’s season. He shot 33 percent on outside shots in the first 33 games of the season before missing time due to injury. In his next 20 games, Jackson shot 25.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Jackson should have a rebound season in 2022-23. The 23-year-old is still young and projects to be a part of the core moving forward. Although, he is not an untouchable piece of the core.
At a $3.2 million cap hit, it is a low-risk move to accept Jackson’s team option. Next season, he could be a major contributor to a Pistons playoff run if he returns to his 2020-21 form. If he continues to struggle, he will not be eating up much cap space to begin with.
Luka Garza– Decline
Luka Garza was a standout player during the summer league. He is a high-effort player and a floor-spacing big. But, the 23-year-old just is not ready for the NBA at this point in his career.
Garza is a liability on the defensive end. If he ended up being switched onto wings or guards he was guaranteed to get blown by on drives. He does not possess the lateral quickness or agility to guard positions besides other centers. In the post, the 23-year-old was bullied by more skilled bigs. Offensively he was okay at times, but as a whole, he was a negative player on both ends of the court during his rookie year.
Bring Garza back for summer league. If he shows improvement, put him on a two-way contract. If he still looks like too much of a liability, there is no shame in having him on the G-League roster for a few seasons before re-evaluating him. Garza has a lot of developing to do before he is solid enough to be even a depth piece in the NBA. His high-effort level of play provides some semblance of hope he can become that, but right now, he is not ready.
Carsen Edwards– Decline
The Carsen Edwards experience was neat. His 13-point performance against the Indiana Pacers just hours after signing with the team was unexpected. But after his first game with Detroit, Edwards was…not great. In four games, the point guard averaged 5.8 points and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 30 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three.
Detroit’s front office is going to decline Edward’s $1.8 million team option this offseason. He just did not perform well enough to warrant a roster spot next season.
Now, a two-way contract or simply a spot on the Motor City Cruise of the G-League would be just fine for Edwards. The 24-year-old was a standout in the G-League with the Utah Jazz affiliate team. Do not be surprised if he shows up on the summer league roster and subsequently in a Cruise uniform next season.
(Featured Image Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
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