Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 Free Agency Primer

The negotiating period of free agency kicks off at midnight on Wednesday, July 1st, allowing for teams to talk terms with the players they've made priorities in free agency.  The Pistons have traditionally been also-rans in free agency periods past, but Stan Van Gundy seems intent on pulling in one of the many quality SF options available on this year's market, using a portion of the team's approximately $18M in cap space.  The Pistons' head man has been quoted in multiple places as stating that he and his team are prioritizing two unrestricted free agents at the team's biggest position of need, as well as two restricted free agents.  While the biggest area of focus is on the team's dire need for a starter at SF, Detroit also needs a legitimate backup C or two to play behind Andre Drummond.  The Pistons could also use another F, whether it's at SF or PF depends on Stan Van Gundy's idea of Quincy Miller's position.  The good news is, we're likely to avoid a Smith/Villaneuva/Gordon-esque signing, as SVG and his front office appear dedicated to following their plan to build smartly around Andre Drummond.  While there's no guarantee that Stan Van Gundy can bring in a top name to fill the SF gap, the first week of July should be entertaining to follow.

What the Roster Looks Like Going Into Free Agency

With the draft all said-and-done, the Pistons roster is pretty clear entering free agency.  I'm operating under the assumption that Reggie Jackson will be brought back until something tells me otherwise.  I'm also going to assume that there's no chance Greg Monroe returns.  The team is taken care of completely at the PG position, pretty well set at SG, and then there's some uncertainty from that point:

Reggie Jackson
Brandon Jennings
Spencer Dinwiddie
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Jodie Meeks
Darrun HIlliard

Stanley Johnson
Cartier Martin
Ersan Ilyasova
Anthony Tolliver
Quincy Miller
Andre Drummond

If you want to open an extra roster spot, you can assume one of two things: Darrun HIlliard spends the majority of the year in Grand Rapids, or, Cartier Martin's contract is eaten and he's cut loose at some point.  If neither of those things happen, Detroit absolutely needs two Cs and a SF capable of alleviating the offensive stress on Jackson and KCP on the perimeter.

The Top Options at SF

Even though Stan Van Gundy wasn't specific with the names of the four targets mentioned in the opening paragraph, it's not hard to take an accurate guess at the names.  In my opinion, the two unrestricted SFs aren't hard to figure out: Danny Green and DeMarre Carroll.  They're the only two true SFs who aren't restricted and who fit the bill as a starter.  It gets a little bit harder to figure out who the two restricted free agents would be, but if you rule out an unlikely option, such as Jimmy Butler, it sure sounds like the two restricted targets are Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris.  I took a look at the ups and downs of each option earlier this summer in the posts below:
The tl;dr version of those four posts, is that I prioritize those four in the following order: Green, Middleton, Harris, Carroll.  Green gets the top spot because he won't command a max contract, is a plus defender and shooter, and he offers the Pistons some major positional flexibility because of his more natural fit at SG.  Fast forward two years, if Stanley Johnson is a legitimate piece at SF, and KCP has plateaued, all you have to do is slide Green to SG and slot Johnson in at SF.  While you could also get that flexibility with Middleton, who can also play SG, and Harris, who can make a nice small-ball PF, both of those players are likely to command a max contract, or close to it.  Carroll, despite has major impact on the Hawks over the past two seasons, is last on my list because he's set to get PAID this summer, will turn 29 this season, is almost surely only a SF and doesn't have a long track record.  I won't be upset if Carroll is the Pistons' starting SF come opening night, but I would be much more pleased with any of the other three.

Fallback Options at SF

Of course, it's entirely possible that the Pistons take four big whiffs on the names mentioned above, forcing the team to move on to plan B.  The Plan B options aren't nearly as appealing, and should drive home the importance of nabbing one of the Plan A options if the Pistons are truly going to compete for a playoff spot in 2015-16.  Unrestricted options beyond Carroll and Green are role players such as Al-Farouq Aminu, and long-shots Arron Afflalo and Wes Matthews.  There's also restricted free agent Jae Crowder.  That's a pretty uninspiring list of options, and while I would be intrigued by an Aminu signing, I don't think it would be nearly enough to help the Pistons toward a playoff berth in the near future, or Eastern Conference contendership in the long run.  Cross your fingers that one of the top four names on the board has an interest in playing for the Pistons.

Gather the Rim Protecting Foul Machines

While it's not as pressing of a need as the need for a starting-caliber SF, the Pistons must come away from free agency with a Center who can adequately back up Andre Drummond.  They truly need two Cs to fill out the roster, but the more important piece will be the one that is the primary backup to the franchise cornerstone.  Last season, the Pistons relied more heavily on Joel Anthony than planned, and there's a chance that Anthony re-ups in Detroit.  While Anthony performed admirably, the odds of him performing strongly over the course of a season playing 15-25 minutes each night aren't high.  While the Pistons would be fine to bring back Anthony as their third C, they shouldn't plan on utilizing him as Drummond's main backup.  What they should do, is find someone who can do what Anthony does, but at a higher frequency.  There are some quality options on the backup C market this offseason, but my favorite is Bismack Biyombo, who wasn't tendered a qualifying offer by the Charlotte Hornets.  I detailed Biyombo's strengths and weaknesses in this LINK, so I'll give a short rundown of why he should be the focus for Detroit's needs at the backup C position.

Biyombo has never really lived up to his draft position as the 7th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, but he has showcased some skills that make him a good fit in Detroit.  He's a quality shot blocker, notching close to 3 blocks per 36 minutes in each of the last two seasons.  Along with that, he's a decent rim protector from a standpoint of altering shots, having held opponents below 50% at the rim in each of the last two seasons, and under 40% in 2013-14.  He's an extremely low-maintenance piece on offense, one who doesn't require the ball whatsoever.  What he does get usually ends in a high percentage dunk/layup or free throws, as Biyombo boasted an absurd .941 FTr in the 2014-15 campaign.  Biyombo is likely never going to be a world-beater, but the Pistons don't need that.  They need someone who can protect the rim and eat fouls when Andre Drummond is on the bench.  Biyombo should do that just fine, and at only 23 years old when the season starts, he could grow along with the team's core.

If you're not as psyched about the prospects of Biyombo as I am, there are still plenty of reliable options on the market.  Among those options, the most respected name is Brandan Wright, who has been a journeyman, but a productive player.  He may price himself out of the Pistons' budget, but would be an excellent addition.  Kyle O'Quinn is the top restricted free agent who could interest Detroit, although Orlando may be intent on keeping him around.  As far as unrestricted options go, Alexis Ajinca, Greg Smith and Cole Aldrich could be on the radar.  Among that group, I'd prefer Ajinca and O'Quinn to Smith and Aldrich, in that order.  The only way I'll truly be disappointed here is if Joel Anthony is the primary backup going into the season.  That seems like a recipe for disaster in my eyes, because if Drummond were to go down, you can't possibly compete with Joel Anthony as your starter.


* The following tweet has seemingly inspired some Pistons fans to believe that Golden State isn't going to keep Draymond Green at all costs:
The Warriors are going to keep Draymond Green at all costs.  There's not really anything else to say about that one.

* The Draymond thing may be at least a little bit realistic; this one on the other hand...

If Wade truly tests this free agency thing, wouldn't be surprised if Lakers, Bucks, Pistons, Knicks get/make calls.
— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) June 29, 2015

Does Michael Wallace think we're all stupid?  I don't know if the Bucks or the Pistons are more out of place there.

* I would've been okay with the Pistons trading for Nic Batum...

...but I'm glad they didn't.  Portland got a good return for a guy who is entering free agency following the season and coming off of his worst season in years.  Plus, what would we have to follow in free agency if the SF gap was already filled?

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