Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Clock Ticking on Plan A

The Pistons' front office reportedly had big plans for this year's free agency period.  They had narrowed their search down to four big names at the SF position, two unrestricted and two restricted free agents.  While they didn't name names, you didn't have to be a league insider to guess that DeMarre Carroll and Danny Green were the two unrestricted names, and that Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris were the two restricted options atop the list.  It sounded like the Pistons could be in business early; they were the first team to contact Danny Green and set up a meeting when free agency opened at midnight, and they got themselves a stop on Carroll's meeting list.  Fast forward 18 hours, and the only name left among that top four group is Tobias Harris, a restricted free agent who could very well have any deal he signs matched by the Orlando Magic.  Middleton re-upped with a Bucks squad that jumpstarted his career,  Danny Green did the reasonable thing and returned to the San Antonio Spurs on a four year, $45 million deal, and DeMarre Carroll signed a four year, $60 million pact with the Raptors.  I'd have been extremely uncomfortable with Carroll at that rate, and what Green got was on the top end of what I would have liked to see.  That being said, if the Pistons are going to compete for a playoff spot this year, they're going to have to lock down a quality SF.  We're one Tobias Harris decision away from starting one of Stanley Johnson or [Insert name of mediocre FA SF] on the wing this year, barring a trade.

The developments to this point are going to do one of two things: force the Pistons' hand with regard to opening the bank for Tobias Harris, or, make the team change course going into this season.  The Magic and Harris' agent are likely very well aware of the Pistons' need for a quality SF if they're going to be relevant in the 2015-16 campaign.  That's going to allow Harris' camp to drive up the price in negotiations, and it's going to allow Orlando to drive up the price in any discussions about a potential sign-and-trade of Harris.  With Paul Millsap reportedly down to picking between Orlando and Atlanta, cross your fingers that Millsap ends up with the Magic.  If Millsap lands in Orlando, it would certainly devalue the idea of bringing Harris back for the Magic, especially after they just grabbed SF Mario Hezonja in the draft.  If Millsap chooses to go back to the Hawks, Orlando may just choose to roll with Harris.  Even if you take the Millsap variable out of things, it's pretty clear that the success of the Pistons' 2015 free agency quest hinges on Tobias Harris and his decision.  That's not a good place to be in.

UPDATE: Millsap has agreed to a deal with the Hawks...

If Harris does end up back in Orlando, or elsewhere, and the Pistons aren't ready to throw in the towel on finding a quality SF in free agency, the options are scant.  Al-Farouq Aminu agreed to a hefty contract with Portland in the early hours of free agency, Wes Matthews is in talks with contenders (and the Knicks), and Paul Pierce isn't spending the twilight of his career with a team who's not at least in the contention discussion.  That leaves two options in my eyes, and neither one seems like a realistic bet to end up with the Pistons:
  • Arron Afflalo: It's rumored that the Knicks are the front-runners here.  Things can change quickly in free agency, but Afflalo seems unlikely to end up in Detroit.
  • Jae Crowder: I haven't seen anything linking Crowder to Detroit, and it's said that he'll choose between Dallas and Boston.
If you move beyond those two, you might as well throw in the towel on this year and tank.  The rest of the list is veterans who clearly aren't starters (Gerald Green, Luke Babbitt, Omri Casspi, Dorell Wright) or young, unproven players like KJ McDaniels and Glenn Robinson III, who aren't going to be good starters.  The list is growing thin quickly.

Looking at what's potentially on the table above, it's not unreasonable to suggest that they should just throw in the towel on competing for the playoffs next year.  Unless a quality SF can be acquired via trade, the Pistons will be heavily outmanned on the wing.  It's at least worth looking into a sign-and-trade of Reggie Jackson, which would allow the Pistons to gather some assets, plan on a higher pick in the 2016 draft, and devote a full year to expanding Andre Drummond's post game.  It would be an interesting about-face after acquiring Ersan Ilyasova, but it's at least worth talking about.  Simply put, you can't expect to contend for a playoff spot starting a rookie or an afterthought free agent at SF.  It didn't work last year with Caron Butler, Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince, and it's not going to work this year in a marginally improved Eastern Conference.  If you can't get Tobias Harris or a decent SF via trade, the tanking route needs to be examined.

 Free agency is far from over, but at this point, it's not even fair to say the Pistons have started.  There's been no measurable progress toward inking a starting-caliber SF, and I've yet to see any reports suggesting they've contacted a candidate to fill the team's gap at the backup C position.  It's been pretty quiet as far as the Pistons being involved on a player who hasn't agreed to terms with another team.  I'm a pretty patient person, so I'll hold off on calling free agency a failure, but we're not headed in the right direction early.

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