It kind of feels like the opening scene of The Hangover.
A chicken wakes you, Troy Weaver, up. You can make out that you’re in a hotel room, on the floor. Your glasses are luckily by your head. What fresh hell has 2020 delivered? Better lay back down for a bit.
Drunk Tom Gores stumbles by in his underwear to take a leak. There’s a roar behind him. It’s Mason Plumlee’s $25 million contract. Hm, weird. Goes back to peeing. But the next roar pulls him out of his daze. Oh no, who paid a Plumlee $25 million?
Tom runs out the door, steps on you. You pull yourself out of it. It’s time to figure things out. Your phone still has battery, phew. You make a couple of calls. It turns out 90 percent of your team has is gone. Plus a tooth. Ugh, Vegas is not the place for the first night of free agency.
But what’s that? $60 million? For Jerami Grant? Oh god. What happened last night?
After the NBA Draft Troy Weaver went on a bit of a binge. If you know what he’s up to, well, that makes two of you. Draft night felt a little reckless. It seemed like sacrificing the future for solid-ish young prospects, but mostly role player upside.
Then the first night of free agency. Yeah…
Even with a few subsequent days to see a few roster-balancing moves, it’s still tough to figure out what Weaver is going for here. Except, that must have been an interesting interview where he talked about how he isn’t really a fan of the vast majority of the roster, I suppose.
One thing that’s clear is the type of player that Weaver likes. He’s into bouncy, try-hard types of players. Which is admirable. But what’s questionable is what kind team these guys are going to make.
After getting through the first week of free agency, as far as I can tell from the information about the draft picks included, the Pistons experience has been this:
In: Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee, Rodney McGruder, Dzanan Musa, Tony Bradley, Anthony Lamb, Zhaire Smith, Trevor Ariza, Delon Wright, Jahlil Okafor, Dewayne Dedmon, 2021 TOR second round pick, 2023 GS or CLE second round pick
Out: Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Tony Bradley, Trevor Ariza, Josh Jackson, Tony Snell, Khyri Thomas, Dewayne Dedmon, Zaire Smith, 2021 (heavily protected) first round pick, 2021 second round pick (from Lakers), 2022 second round pick, 2023 second round pick, 2024 second round pick, 2025 second round pick, 2026 second round pick
Whew. Did I miss anyone?
Other outs include Christian Wood departing as a free agent on a 3 year, $41 million sign-and-trade deal and Jordan Bone, who leaves on a less impressive offer of a two way deal with the Orlando Magic, but still. There’s been a bit of roster turnover.
What, what, what’s…happening here?
Certainly part of it is Weaver re-developing the roster in his image. Beyond that? Fuck if I know.
It’s a lot of activity. But a better team? For the short term or long term? No. Not really.
There’s plenty of unknowns still left. But as it stands, the Pistons opening day lineup looks like one that has the same problem as it has for years now: It’s not really sure what the goal is.
The best case scenario is competing for the bottom part of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The worst case is wasting $85 million on the fourth and ninth guys on Denver’s team last year just to find ourselves in the same place three years from now.
The Pistons have a long history of getting burned paying a bunch of money for role players in free agency. Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, Langston Galloway, etc. They’ve also gotten hit while trying to bet on big free agent signings taking a next step. See: Villauneva, Charlie; Gordon, Ben; Smith, Josh.
In Grant and Plumlee, the Pistons are trying both of those again.
Jerami Grant has never averaged more than 13 points per game. Folks talk about his bubble performance. Ok. I don’t really see it. His numbers were actually down during the playoffs. Over 16 games, he had 11 points per game on 55 percent true shooting percentage averaging 34 minutes, along with three rebounds, 0.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks.
That’s…a role player. The Pistons are paying $20 million per year for the next three years to a role player. And he’s getting a premium for his very role player-ish performance in the bubble? Or perhaps, it’s just that more folks tuned into the final three games of the Nuggets against the Lakers and using a wide brush.
He’s a perfectly decent role player. But at $20 million, he’s going to need to be more than that, closer to the fringe All Star level of player. If Grant has that next level of upside, there’s not been any clear indication of it in his track record.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so flagrant if it weren’t for Marshall Plumlee. Or Miles. I dunno, Mason I guess. Is there also a Mitchell? It seems like there’s probably a Mitchell. One of the Plumlees. We just gave one of the Plumlees $25 million. It doesn’t matter which one it was, it’s still a bad idea. (Just to be clear, it was Mason.)
Yeah, they’re just three year deals. So was Langston Galloway’s, but everyone hated that once they realized how paying a backup wing $21 million impacts your cap situation.
Both of these two players have virtues. Neither sucks. But $85 million for the pair of them is absolute insanity.
Aron Baynes got a 2 year, $13 million deal. Willie Cauley-Stein got 2 years, $8 million. Nerlens Noel signed for 1 year, $5 million. If you really need a mediocre center, there were options out there that didn’t cost $25 million.
Mason Plumlee at $8 million per year for three years is just completely unnecessary and ridiculous. Especially considering he was the first move of free agency for the Pistons. If it were a one year deal at that dollar amount, it would still be an overpay. But three years? Absolutely asinine.
I like some of the stuff Plumlee does. He sets nice screens, does a nice job coming up with loose balls, he does very little stupid stuff. You know, aside from whatever happened on that Anthony Davis game winner in game two of the series against the Lakers.
These weren’t good signings. I could get down with paying some younger role players a premium on a contract that could be flipped in a couple of years. But no one is going to get excited about a 32 year old Plumlee for an $8 million expiring. Re-signing Christian Wood though, that seems like a much more flippable contract. Ahem.
I could also get down with them if the rest of the roster made sense. But it just doesn’t. It still seems like a mid-30s win squad with no real route to a superstar. I could even try talking myself into it if the team kept themselves flexible without sacrificing too much for the future. But they didn’t.
The aspect that adds to the perplexity of the Grant and Plumlee signings was Weaver’s strategy of stretching contracts.
The Pistons unloaded Tony Snell’s expiring $12 million contract and Khyri Thomas’ roster spot to the Hawks for Dewayne Dedmon’s $13 million. Then they promptly stretched Dedmon, to pay him $2.9 million in dead salary for the next five years.
They flipped the newly acquired Tony Bradley to the 76ers for Zhaire Smith, which seemed fine. Either seems like decent young players with some upside. But Vincent Goodwill reported that they’re expected to waive Smith, which would make a cap hit of about $1 million over the next three years.
There was discussion about also waiving the newly acquired Rodney McGruder, which would be $1 million in dead weight over the next five years. But after the Smith acquisition and presumptive waiving, that talk seems to have been walked back.
Still during a period of a flattened salary cap, the Pistons just intentionally handicapped themselves for the next half decade…to overpay a pair of role players. I’m going to go out on a limb and call that a questionable strategy.
The Pistons moved Trevor Ariza to the Mavericks for Delon Wright, who makes a helpful addition to the backcourt. The three-way deal also included an undisclosed pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with Justin Jackson while sending James Johnson to Dallas. Considering the names involved, it seems likely that the pick involved would be coming from the Pistons.
They also added Jahlil Okafor with a two-year deal on the veteran minimum, which is ok. Okafor will still be just 25 on opening day and did a nice job as a backup in New Orleans. But his presence seems like it’d block young players in Isaiah Stewart and Justin Patton.
Wayne Ellington also re-joined the team on a one year, $2.9 million contract, filling a much needed spot for a true shooting guard.
By the time the dust settles, the only Pistons remaining from last year are Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Sekou Doumbouya.
The roster for next year so far looks as followed:
Lead guards: Derrick Rose, Killian Hayes, Saben Lee, Delon Wright
Wings: McGruder, Ellington, Jerami Grant, Svi, Sekou, Dzanan Musa, Saddiq Bey
Bigs: Blake, Isaiah Stewart, Jahlil Okafor, Plumlee, Justin Patton
So what’s happening here? Is this a rebuild? Are they trying for the playoffs? They certainly did blow it up. But did the genade move them forward in a particular direction?
Here’s what Weaver said after the draft: “We’re going to attack the draft, we’re going to attack free agency, we’re going to attack everything. I said coming in, this was going to be a restoring of two iterations of the great Pistons teams. That was their mentality. They were aggressive, they were on the attack and we want to follow suit. That’s the mantra and we’ll hopefully continue to be aggressive.”
There’s no doubting his aggressiveness. And the style of player he likes is clear. But there is a question in tactics and overall direction.
Explaining his acquisitions post free agency, Weaver said, ““The way I learned basketball, the game starts when the shot goes up. We just saw the Lakers win the championship. They had tremendous size.”
Well, yeah. But also LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But hey, it could all work out. Weaver seems confident that he had a cheat sheet on Grant. Maybe this group of rookies makes the kind of Core Four that Weaver envisions. Or maybe this is just the start of a foot to the pedal ride from Weaver, one that eventually cascades into a contending roster.
The offseason will be over before we know it, but it’s still premature to make too much of a judgement on Weaver’s direction. There have been some puzzling decisions, to be sure. But if Weaver pulls it off and builds a winner, all’s well that ends well.
(Featured photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)