NBA Rumor: Christian Wood Free Agency

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Wood went undrafted in 2015, struggled his first two years, and then signed with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Fujian Sturgeons in 2017 because NBA opportunities were dwindling. Before he even played a game in China, he got cut. “I was stuck. I was lost. I didn’t even think I was gonna get a job,” Wood told me last month. But it was the kick he needed to start locking in on defense, making smart decisions, and playing within the flow of the offense. First he did it in the G League, and then in the NBA. “Once I got cut from China, that’s when everything clicked for me,” Wood said. “That’s when I knew I had to turn the tables, show up every night, and be a whole different type of player than anybody said I was.”

Everything I’ve heard is that the Pistons like Wood. They haven’t said anything publicly, and I don’t know if that’s out of fear of tampering or mind games, but he does seem to have supporters in the front office. As for the team’s plan for Wood, I’m not sure. If I were Detroit, my first priority would be signing him. There’s a good chance he might not be there when you circle back. Charlotte seems like a great fit. The Knicks seem like an OK fit. Don’t forget about the Suns, either.

Keep an eye on Christian Wood. Wood went undrafted in 2015 and became a journeyman, signing six different contracts, getting claimed off waivers twice and eventually finding a role with the Pistons. The 6-foot-10 Wood is only 25. He has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and is coming off a career year in which he averaged 13 points, 6.2 rebounds and 21 minutes. In the nine games after the All-Star break, Wood averaged 24 points and 9.6 rebounds while converting 38.9% from 3. The market for the versatile big man projects to be at the $9.3 million midlevel exception.

First, we start with Christian Wood, a soon-to-be 25-year-old unrestricted free agent who broke onto the scene this season. Since Detroit owns his “Early Bird” rights, signing him for roughly $9 million or $10 million would count only $1.7 million against the cap. That’d be a huge win for the Pistons. However, many people I’ve talked to believe Wood will get more in free agency, maybe even up to $16 million per year, which, if the Pistons set or matched, would all go toward the cap, leaving them with about $17 million left to play with. But for this exercise, let’s slot Wood in for $12 million per year. Not many teams have cap space, especially with a shrinking cap.

Down the stretch, one talent evaluator thought Wood played at an All-Star level. But another team executive cautioned, “He’s been with five teams — he’s not a slam dunk.’’ The Knicks are looking for a power forward who can shoot from mid-range and the 3-point line with the likely departure of Bobby Portis. Wood shot 56.7 percent from the field — and 38.6 from 3. Wood earned $1.6 million this season. Even with the major salary-cap reduction, Wood could earn five, six times that next season. However be warned: The intel coming out of UNLV in 2015 was not stellar, according to sources.

If the Knicks decide to look for a forward via free agency who can shoot, Danilo Gallinari, Carmelo Anthony and Christian Wood are potential options. Some members of the Knicks front office were enamored with Wood over the course of the season. Regarding Anthony, prior to free agency last summer, the Knicks strongly considered signing the ex-Knick if they were able to land two other stars. They missed out on the stars in free agency, which took Anthony out of their plans. Rose, the current team president, was Anthony’s agent. The two remain close. Worth pointing out: the Knicks being open to looking for a big who can shoot doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire to move on from Randle.

Christian Wood on Celtics' radar

A source told The Athletic at the trade deadline that the Celtics inquired about Wood on more than one occasion. So, yeah, there’s interest on Boston’s end. Realistically, given the likely change to the NBA’s salary cap and the Celtics’ current financial situation, the only way they’d be able to land Wood in the open market is if Enes Kanter and/or Gordon Hayward opt out of their combined $39 million player options. It’s unlikely that Boston will have the full mid-level exception to use.

With that said, let’s say a team like the Knicks, which could have $46 million in cap space this offseason, offers Wood $15 million per year. New York, at that point, would likely force Detroit to offer at least that much. Where the Pistons would have an edge in negotiations, though, is in their ability to offer more years, a trade kicker, player option, etc. However, if/once Wood’s annual salary exceeds the league average, Detroit no longer sees that sweet $1.7 million cap hold if it brings Wood back. He would be signed using cap space at that point.

Christian Wood. Contract status: Free agent after the summer. Odds he returns: 70 percent. Analysis: We’ve talked a lot about why Wood is likely in line for a big pay raise, so we won’t spend much time on that. He’s a modern-day big who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from distance. You rebuild to get a player like the 24-year-old Wood in your system, and I think Detroit will do everything it can within reasonable parameters to keep Wood around. The Pistons, with Wood’s “Early Bird” rights, have leverage. But with a thinner free agency class and other bottom-feeder teams having cap space, I could see another team making Detroit sweat by throwing a significant contract at Wood.

Advanced metrics rated Wood as a top-10 center in 2019-20. Past performance doesn’t predict future results and the market for bigs, in general, will be tepid this offseason, but Wood should be a target for any team looking for a starting-caliber big. Detroit certainly will be among them, and has an advantage. His low cap hold (a paltry $1.7M) can allow the Pistons to use the rest of their projected $35M in room on other players before coming back to the trough for Wood. However, he is an Early Bird free agent, meaning that for dollar amounts above the league average salary (roughly $10M), the Pistons have to dig into their cap space to re-sign him.

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