If the Detroit Pistons’ top goal for 2018-19 was to make the playoffs, then one could consider their season a success. They didn’t qualify for the postseason in particularly impressive fashion, ending the campaign as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed and with a 41-41 record, but they made it nonetheless, just their second playoff appearance of the last 10 years. As far as another positive, Detroit got a fantastic season out of Blake Griffin, who proved that he’s still one of the better big men the league has to offer. Griffin put up 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in 2018-19, receiving All-Star honors for the first time since 2014-15 in the process. Additionally, second-year guard Luke Kennard flashed impressive moments as a primary ball-handler/scorer throughout the season.
That might be where the positives end for Detroit, however.
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson still put up decent numbers, but their impact felt as hollow as ever, especially when the playoffs rolled around. What’s more, the Pistons still have an extremely bloated salary cap at the moment, one that is projected to be roughly $12.9 million over the cap this summer, and, even worse, they lack any type of flexibility to improve their roster over the offseason. It should be a quiet summer in Detroit, which is not what you want to hear for a fringe-playoff club with such a top-heavy roster.
GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Blake Griffin: $34,234,964
Andre Drummond: $27,093,018
Reggie Jackson: $18,086,956
Jon Leuer: $9,508,043
Langston Galloway: $7,333,333
Thon Maker: $5,175,983
Luke Kennard: $3,827,160
Khryi Thomas: $1,416,852
Bruce Brown: $1,416,852
NON-GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2019/20
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk: $1,416,852
Glenn Robinson III: $4,278,750
Isaiah Whitehead: Restricted
Kalin Lucas: Restricted
The Pistons’ top priority this offseason has to be finding a way for Griffin not just to get healthy, but to stay healthy throughout the course of next season. It’s happened before, most notably with Stephen Curry, where a player that was seemingly always ailing in one way or another finally found a training regimen that helped him stay healthy over long periods of time, and Detroit needs to hope they can work similar magic with their best player.
Apart from that, it should be a quiet summer for the Pistons since they’ll be over the cap and without much flexibility to add outside help; the best they can probably hope for is to re-sign Wayne Ellington and Ish Smith, two of their most important role players.
If people want to see fireworks from Detroit this summer, the only way they’ll get them is if the Pistons decide to try and trade either Drummond or Jackson, although it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to move either of them without having to add sweetener to the deal in for the form of assets or draft capital. Drummond struggled mightily in the playoffs, shooting 44.4 percent despite taking most of his attempts from right around the basket, while Jackson, who, to his credit, did perform more admirably in the postseason, is just too inconsistent and limited to be the third best player on a truly great team. He’d be better cast as a sixth man, but he’s had that role before with the Oklahoma City Thunder and didn’t care much for it. Not to mention, he’s making too much money at $16 million for a non-starter.
Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the Pistons struggle in two areas – protecting the paint and sharing the basketball – so it’s concerning that their second- and third-highest paid players happen to be a center and a point guard, whose job theoretically is supposed be performing those two functions. That explains not just why the team struggled this season despite having an All-Star power forward and a huge payroll, but also why it’d be hard to move on from Drummond or Jackson.
Detroit does have a halfway decent nucleus of young players now, including Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Thon Maker, so continuing to develop them this summer will be vital for the Pistons’ future, since they don’t have the money to spend in free agency, and lack the assets to make a major splash in the trade market.
POTENTIAL FREE AGENCY TARGETS
Ed Davis: The Brooklyn Nets will likely go out of their way to re-sign him, but if they can’t, Davis would be a major upgrade over Zaza Pachulia as Detroit’s backup big man, and a fantastic addition to the locker room.
Markieff Morris: Morris would be a good target if the Pistons want quicker second-unit lineups with Griffin at the 5 and a floor-spacing big man at the 4. This would only be logical, though, if Detroit is comfortable with how Morris looks health-wise this summer, as the big man had a pretty unproductive year in 2018-19 returning from a neck injury.
Rodney Hood: A scoring wing who can shoot from the outside, Hood could be a cheap target for Detroit that could help their reserve unit.
Wesley Matthews: The Pistons could use some toughness and shooting, and Matthews would bring those two skills to the table.
Justin Holiday: He’d be a cheap target to bolster their bench lineups. His shooting would help a Detroit team that was mediocre in that area this season.
POTENTIAL TRADE TARGETS
Unless they decide to ship their starting point guard or center, or decide to move their first-round draft pick, Detroit will have a difficult time being active on the trade market this summer. Even if they do try to deal Jackson or Drummond, it’s unclear what type of interest they would garner on the trade market, if any at all.
As such, it’s impossible to even list potential trade targets for them. If they do pull a deal off, it’ll most likely be a minor one.
2019 DRAFT ASSETS
The Pistons own their first-round pick this summer. They will select 15th overall.
They will also have a second-round pick in their disposal.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.