NBA salary cap expert, free agency and trade tipster and spotrac.com contributor Keith Smith joined “The Pistons Pulse” podcast this week to discuss the Detroit Pistons’ offseason outlook.
It’s another crucial offseason for the Pistons, who have the No. 5 overall pick in the June 22 draft, and about $30 million in cap space available to improve the roster after a 17-win season. The Pistons could also pay a few of their own players, as 2020 rookies Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman will all be eligible for rookie contract extensions.
Smith, who also hosts the Front Office Show podcast, sees the Pistons as one of seven teams this season that will have financial flexibility and can be a big player in both the free agency and trade markets. Here’s some of what he had to say on the Free Press podcast.
Listen to “The Pistons Pulse” for his full thoughts, which include a draft discussion, and how the team will be affected by the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Pistons have two soft-firing veterans who should appeal to the NBA.
Bogdanovic, coming off one of his best offensive seasons, signed a two-year, $39.1 million contract extension in October guaranteed for just $2 million in 2024-25.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons extend Burks’ contract this summer, but his expiring contract could also be used to sweeten a trade, after shooting 41.4 percent on 3 last season.
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The Pistons have elected to keep both players through the February trade deadline, but teams will call for availability this summer. Smith noted the Pistons could include one of their big four — Stewart, Wiseman, Marvin Bagley III or Jalen Duren — in a deal because it’s a position of strength.
“The Pistons are also in a situation where it’s not like they’re trying to fill 12 spots on the roster,” Smith said. “They’re in a place where you can use that $30 million of space to do things and have some veterans in Bogdanovic and Burks that will have commercial value this summer. If they decide, “Hey, we didn’t trade them by the deadline, but there’s a move that’s too good to miss right now,” they can leave.
“You have a surplus of position at the big points. You could pass someone there, especially if we don’t know where Isaiah Stewart is going but we don’t feel too good about extending it, maybe you can pass him while he’s still a positive value player before he is on his next contract. There’s a lot of flexibility and it’s never a bad thing to have that flexibility, as long as you can put it to good use.
Several free agency targets to watch
The 2023 class of free agency is light on superstar talent, but there are several players who would fit the Pistons’ 3-and-D needs.
Jerami Grant, who played for the Pistons for two seasons before being traded to Portland last June, could top the list. He is coming off the best offensive season of his career, averaging 20.5 points on 47.5% total shooting and a career-high 40.1% on 3. He has thrived as an option complementary alongside Damian Lillard, after carrying a heavy offensive load in Detroit. He is entering unrestricted free agency after completing the three-year, $60 million contract he signed in 2020 with the Pistons.
Grant, 29, could return to Portland or go elsewhere. However, Smith does not consider Detroit a likely landing spot.
“What we saw with Jerami Grant in Portland was his effectiveness returning,” Smith said. “He came back because there weren’t as many disputed jumpers off the dribble that he needed to create late in the clock.
“It’s good. He’s a very malleable and adaptable player. He can adapt to whatever you need to turn him into. He can play both 3 and 4. For me, that’s been there, done that. That’s not the direction I would go (for the Pistons).
The Pistons could also be in the mix for two restricted free agents – Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams and Brooklyn Nets forward Cameron Johnson.
Williams, 24, is a versatile defender who can play small ball center in some formations and shot 39.5 percent on 3 last season.
Johnson, 27, is a good shooter, knocking down 39.3% of his 3-pointers in his career, and also brings some defensive verve.
Because their respective teams will have the right to match any free agency offer to keep them, Smith thinks the Pistons will likely have to offer most, if not all, of their cap space to acquire them. He sees Johnson as a more natural fit, as Williams’ best position is power forward and the Pistons are deeper at that position.
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“The ability to hit bodies isn’t as great on the perimeter, that’s where he’s really good,” Smith said of Williams. “He’s really good at being that lane defender where he gets up under guys like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. He had a lot of success against those guys, which seems weird because he’s like 6-6, 6-7. But that’s what he does really well.
“The guy can play 2, 3 or 4 depending on what the rest of your roster looks like,” Smith said of Johnson. “He’s a knocked down shooter. I thought he showed more dribbling ability last year than in previous years, and that was both in expanding his role before he got injured with the Suns. And then just let him do more once he’s on the Nets, it was really him and Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie, you have to create everything here. We don’t have much here. It really shone there. But that’s the challenge, you’re gonna have to make the offer so big the Nets blink. That’s all your ceiling space if you’re in Detroit.
Restricted free agency could be the best result for the 2020 class
For Hayes, Stewart and Wiseman, the Pistons can choose to extend them this summer or let them enter restricted free agency in 2024, where the market could set their price.
Smith is unconvinced by the idea of extending it, but Stewart is the most tested and intriguing of the three. He’s a versatile defender and a good rebounder, but he shot just 32.7 percent from 3 in his first season incorporating shooting into his daily arsenal. Smith has questioned Stewart’s long-term advantage as a shooter and thinks the Pistons had better be patient in paying him off.
“Isaiah Stewart is the toughest, man, because I feel like every good team has an Isaiah Stewart where it’s fair, the dude plays with a ton of energy and he’s going to hit the boards and he’s going do a lot of things and he’s really going to get in there and throw some guys and shake things up and play super physically with that,” Smith said. “Whether it’s him or the team, I didn’t like the everything, let’s try to shoot more 3s. I thought it went too far last year for him.
“I don’t know. I worry about that with him, and then it becomes, how much do you pay big energy? What’s our number? For him, it’s probably going to get to a point where it becomes, we’re just going let him play too, and if you come back and play well, we have restricted free agency to fall in with that.”
Smith’s thoughts on Hayes and Wiseman are less complicated — let them enter restricted free agency next year.
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“I’m going to start with the easiest of this bunch, and that’s Killian Hayes,” he said. “He didn’t do enough for me to extend it, it would have to be so team friendly that it wouldn’t even make sense to him because it turns into, I’d rather bet it all comes together up for me in Year 4.
“Wiseman, it’s easier where it’s fair, let’s let the year go because we have about 24 games, I think he played for the Pistons last year. They were pretty good, sometimes I think we see the dude just needing to play without, ‘I had a turnover and I’m staring at the bench wondering if I’m getting out of the game right away.’ We’ve seen Monty Williams do pretty well with the big guys in the past. Got a lot of Deandre Ayton, so I think he can get a fair amount of James Wiseman. I’m a fan.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons have cap space to hit in NBA free agency, trades