Wednesday’s trade, which sent Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to Memphis, did more than just close the book on the 2004 championship team. It also gives the team the salary-cap space to overhaul the roster and fix the serious mistakes made in recent years.
In the short term, the trade doesn’t seem likely to make Detroit a better team. Yes, newly acquired point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best passers in the NBA, which will help get turnovers under control.
But the defense is now highly suspect. With Brandon Knight moving to shooting guard and Kyle Singler at small forward, there will be enormous pressure on Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe to get stops after opposing players get by the first line of defense.
One way to combat that would be to move Andre Drummond into the starting lineup — he and Monroe form a defensive wall at the basket — but that would leave the undersized Maxiell as the only decent defender on a second unit that’s already struggling to stop anyone.
So the Pistons will probably get a little better on offense, at least when the starters are on the floor, but they’ll have a tough time on defense.
That doesn’t really matter, though. Detroit’s future will be brighter with a lottery pick than it would be sneaking into the No. 8 spot in the East and getting blown out in a first-round series by Miami.
The most likely scenario is, the Pistons will go into the summer with a middle-of-the-lottery pick and the most-precious commodity in the NBA — cap space.
Detroit is about $10 million over the cap, but they will go back to even as soon as Calderon’s salary comes off the books at the end of the season. They will then pick up $25 million by saying goodbye to Corey Maggette ($11 million), Rip Hamilton’s contract ($6 million), Maxiell ($5 million) and Will Bynum ($3 million).
The Pistons can, and probably will, move that number over $30 million by using the CBA’s amnesty clause on Charlie Villanueva’s $8 million deal.
They’ll have plenty of holes to fill with the money.
With Calderon and Bynum gone, the Pistons will have a huge question mark at point guard. Like Rodney Stuckey before him, Brandon Knight looks more like a shooting guard than Detroit’s point guard of the future. Unless Knight can mature into the role during one offseason, Joe Dumars will be trying for a third time to replace Chauncey Billups.
One interesting option, if the Pistons think Knight still has a shot to play the position at a high level, would be to bring in an inexpensive veteran to tutor him. That would leave money to go after a true scorer at shooting guard and let Singler come off the bench.
One obvious free-agent possibility to be Knight’s tutor is Billups, who will be looking for work after struggling with injuries in Los Angeles.
Detroit could then go after J.J. Redick, who can actually hit regular 3-pointers, not Singler’s “buckets” bounced off buildings or thrown from moving vehicles.
The Pistons will probably save their biggest chunk of money to find an impact player at small forward. That role has been filled by Prince for the last decade, but Dumars will be looking for someone who can play alongside Monroe and Drummond, giving Detroit an outstanding frontcourt trio.
Can Dumars recruit a Josh Smith or an Andre Iguodala to come to the Motor City and play for a young, rebuilt team?
The answer to that question will define his future as Detroit’s president and general manager. Dumars needs to hit a home run with this cap space, and that means signing at least one high-caliber player.
He can’t afford a repeat of what happened the last time he was in this situation. Back then, Dumars couldn’t get a big-name player and ended up overpaying for Villanueva and Ben Gordon.
Those signings, and the inability to find a point guard, set Detroit’s timetable back by several years, yet Dumars was given another chance because of the ownership turmoil.
New owner Tom Gores likely won’t give him a third shot.