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NBA Market Watch: Detroit Pistons

NBA Market Watch: Detroit Pistons
Apr 24, 2007, 03:13 am
The Detroit Pistons will come to an impasse this offseason when both Chris Webber and Chauncey Billups become free agents. For the second time in two years, they may have to part with one of their impact players. The team survived the departure of Ben Wallace, but the potential departure of Billups is a serious threat to the team’s future. Webber has spent less time with the club, but his arrival served as a catalyst of sorts for the team. At his age, Webber isn’t going to break the bank on the open market, so he should be easier to retain.

Fortunately for the Pistons, they can offer Billups a bigger contract than any of the other handful of teams that are pursuing him. General Manager Joe Dumars has done a fantastic job assembling his roster, but his real work will begin this offseason. The Pistons have an extremely solid rotation and a number of quality prospects, but Billups is the cornerstone of their franchise.

Roster and Financial Breakdown:


(Salary Cap projections were created taking the average increase over the past 5 seasons)


Record/ Overview:

53-29, 1st place Central Division, 1st seed Eastern Conference

The importance of the point guard position can not be overemphasized in the NBA. As one of the best point guards in the league, and Detroit’s franchise player, Chauncey Billups has everything you look for in a floor general and more. He will inevitably lead the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Finals, and give them a decent shot at an NBA Championship. The Pistons are not a team that is looking to make a huge move this offseason, as they have positioned themselves to be very good for quite a while. They have most of their rotation locked up for a few more years, but it remains to be seen if the team can be competitive without Billups.

Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace form an incredibly formidable frontline, and Rip Hamilton is one of the most cerebral players in the league. Chris Webber has been a welcome addition to the roster, especially when his contract is taken into consideration. Webber’s future with the team isn’t entirely clear, but it is hard to see him playing for too many more seasons.

Current Assets:

The Pistons have a bevy of tradable assets, but how their roster looks next season is largely dependant on how the team fairs in the playoffs. While there are some big time decisions to make with some of the more veteran members of the club, Detroit is sure to retain the rights to the younger players under their control whose value hasn’t accrued much while sitting and studying the championship-caliber counterparts. A small investment in the future could pay dividends down the road.

Expiring Contracts-

The Pistons could have anywhere from three to seven players on their roster hit free agency this summer. The players who will be looking for new deals by default are Chris Webber, Dale Davis, and Amir Johnson. If the Pistons chose to let everyone who can opt out of their contract leave, the team would find itself with over ten million dollars in cap space. Based on that figure only, this offseason will be an extremely important one for the Detroit franchise. The players it could be losing would have quite a bit of value on the open market, but the team will be inclined to retain many of its pieces.

As the biggest target in the free agent market this summer, Chauncey Billups is likely to warrant a maximum contract. While another big contract would put a lot of pressure on the Pistons financially, it is hard to see the team letting Billups go. While he will be 31 next season, his age hasn’t affected his ability to impact a game. Detroit’s ability to leverage its other free agents to return could be dependant on their ability to resign Billups. A number of teams have already shown interest in Billups, but it is hard to see him walking away for the situation he is currently in.

Depending on whether or not he picks up his roughly 7 million dollar player option, Antonio McDyess could become a free agent at the end of this season as well. Of all the players with expiring deals, McDyess’ decision to resign may be the most dependent on the resigning of Chauncey Billups. McDyess has made it clear that he wants to play for a contender, and might feel that the Pistons won’t be able to win a championship without Billups.

Whatever decision Mcdyess reaches, it’s hard to see him matching the mid-level salary he received when initially signing with Detroit, so picking up his option may be the best payday. Jason Maxiell’s surge in production may ultimately be a deciding factor in this decision, as Mcdyess has never been overly motivated by financial incentives and has a strong loyalty to Billups and the rest of the Pistons organization. If Billups isn’t retained, look for McDyess to entertain sign-and-trade options to help satisfy both parties.

The contract of experienced post Dale Davis also expires at the end of this season. Davis hasn’t gotten a ton of time, but he has been serviceable in stretches. At 38 years old, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Davis hang them up if the Pistons win the NBA Championship. If Detroit comes up short, Davis may be looking for a new contract this offseason. Experienced, defensive-minded big men with playoff experience are usually in some type of demand until they choose to step away, look no further than Kevin Willis as proof of this concept. Whatever he decides, Davis doesn’t represent much value on the trade market and would be a throw-in player if dealt-a position he’s familiar with.

Two of Detroit’s youngest players will hit free agency this offseason. While neither Amir Johnson nor Will Blalock has received a great deal of playing time, both have shown the potential to warrant another contract. At just 19 years of age Amir Johnson is the more likely of the two to see a raise. Johnson spent a large portion of the season with the Fayetteville Patriots of the NBADL, seizing the opportunity to display the skills that got him drafted out of high school. He may not be ready to contribute next season, but he is getting close to where he needs to be skill-wise. The Pistons will consider picking up Will Blalock’s option, considering its barely over half a million dollars. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him back, but he may be the odd man out after the draft.

One of the most intriguing stories of this NBA season has been the journey of Chris Webber back to his roots in Detroit. Webber took an enormous pay cut to play in his hometown, and his production is worth many times more than the sub one million dollars he is playing for. At this point in his career, Webber may not be as concerned with making money, so he could come back for the veteran’s minimum or part of the mid level exception. At 34 years of age, Webber’s knees may not hold up for much longer, so he may consider retirement. However, he is thirsty for a championship and will likely resurface with the Pistons or another contender next season as all indications point to him doing so.

Total Cost: $17,531,965

Rotation Players-

The Pistons have one of the best rotations in the NBA, and appear to be in position to keep the core of it intact for at least two more seasons. The team will enlist the services of Rasheed Wallace for two more years, those of Rip Hamilton for three, and Tayshaun Prince for four. At 32 years of age, Wallace isn’t getting any younger, but when his deal expires in the 2009 season, he should still have a good amount of value on the open market. Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are both playing under rather reasonable contracts considering their production, and should be staples of the Detroit roster even after their current deals expire.

Nazr Mohammed was brought in to lessen the blow of losing Ben Wallace, but hasn’t played much since the team acquired Chris Webber. Mohammed is signed through the 2011 season, and shouldn’t be going anywhere considering the relative ages of the Detroit front line. Detroit would gladly unload his contract if they could, but it’ll take a team desperate for a veteran frontline player to do so.

Jason Maxiell is virtually ready to take over as the main rotation big behind Webber and Wallace, and Amir Johnson deserves to start getting some spot time next season if the team sees fit to retain him. Mohammed isn’t a bad player per se, but it’s hard to swallow the length of his deal in terms of salary cap implications and asset loss with him as the return.

Flip Murray could be a free agent this summer, but expecting him to pick up his player option is questionable considering Murray’s age, productivity, projected role, and current cap figure. Look for Murray to test the waters this summer and re-up only if there’s nothing more lucrative on the horizon. If Murray does pick up the option he probably won’t be retained after his option expires since the Pistons will likely have drafted or acquired a swingman to replace him, or maybe have brought back 2005 draftee Alex Acker back from Greece. Veteran wing Lindsey Hunter may be in the same boat as Murray. He has another year left on his deal, but the Pistons may have found someone to replace his production by the time he is looking to be resigned, although his locker room presence might be a factor in bringing him back.

Total Cost: $36,253,740

Prospects:

Outside of Amir Johnson and Will Blalock, the Pistons have three other interesting prospects. Second year power forward Jason Maxiell may be undersized, but he is as a monster in the paint, and could bring to the table some of the same things that made Ben Wallace successful. He will undoubtedly be retained, as the Pistons will need his contributions on the inside.

Argentinean forward Carlos Delfino has really become an asset off the bench during his third season in the NBA. While he may not ever be a starting caliber player, he is a very productive bench player. At only 24 years of age, Delfino still has some room to grow. Both Delfino and Maxiell are still developing on both sides of the ball, but they have progressed to the point that they can do so while contributing. Each would have value to another team on the open market, but the Pistons are probably best served retaining the rights to each and reaping the benefits that continuity and chemistry provide young players.

The third and often forgotten man is 2005 draftee Alex Acker, whose rights are still held by the Pistons this summer after leaving their qualifying offer on the table to sign with wealthy Euroleague outfit Olimpiacos. Acker proved to be one of the best swingmen in all of Europe this year, at the very least in the versatility category. Having turned 24 just a few months ago, now is a great time for the Pistons to bring him back on the cheap and insert him into their rotation. At 6-5, Acker can play the 1-3 positions, featuring excellent passing, ball-handling and rebounding skills, and also a smooth jump-shot.

Total Cost: $2,849,929

Free Agency:

The Pistons won’t have a lot of money to work with going into free agency if they choose to re-sign Billups and retain their other potential free agents, so they will likely have to shift their focus to the draft. They will spend quite a bit in retaining players, and will likely use either their mid level exception or lower level exception to resign Chris Webber.

If the Pistons are able to use their mid level exception on a free agent, they could target a backup point guard like Steve Blake. The Pistons don’t have a ton of holes considering the amount of minutes their backups play, but it wouldn’t hurt to have another steadying presence behind Chauncey Billups. If the team decides to pursue a backup combo guard, Smush Parker could be an interesting option. Jalen Rose is another option, given his ties to Michigan and relationship with Chris Webber. If the team looks for a post player, Melvin Ely will be available. Who the Pistons pursue is almost entirely dependant on who they are able to resign. With International scouting ace Tony Ronzone on board, testing the European free agent market is always a strong option as well.

Draft:

The Pistons have both their first and second round selection in the upcoming draft, as well as the first round pick of the Orlando Magic. Joe Dumars will be almost completely justified in his decision to trade Darko Milicic based off the strength of this draft and the position the Magic’s pick falls into. The Pistons will likely take the best player available from their perspective, rather than drafting on pure need with their first selection.

Detroit will have numerous options with Orlando’s pick, including Acie Law IV who could ultimately develop into Chauncey Billups’s successor, or even play next to him. Mike Conley jr. is a player who has small chance at dropping to Detroit in this slot, and would certainly be a terrific player to bring on board. Forwards Corey Brewer and Jeff Green would also be good selections as they play the type of defense that has defined the Pistons over the last few seasons. This pick will likely be used on the best player to fall out of the top ten, as there will certainly be someone extremely talented available considering the sheer depth of this draft. As always, though, the player that is selected must fit Detroit’s unique personality on and off the court, that is, a tough-minded and unselfish player with strong fundamentals, particularly on the defensive end.

With their second selection, the Pistons could target a polished player who can contribute immediately like Alando Tucker, Morris Almond, or Jared Dudley. It is also possible that the team looks to add some extra insurance down low, by taking a center prospect like Aaron Gray if he is available.

In the second round, the Pistons may look to draft a player that they could stash in Europe like Mizra Teletovic, Kyrylo Fesenko, or Joao Gomes, or some other unknown sleeper that Ronzone finds through his extensive network of overseas contacts. The team could also pick someone who could fall to them like Russell Carter or Carl Landy and stash them in the NBADL if they earn a spot in training camp. Carter is a particularly intriguing selection this late as he has very similar ability to Flip Murray to go along with a winning attitude and relentless defensive motor.

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