Anything happen since our last Mailbag? Why, yes, yes it did. On with Mailbag…
Kevin (Farmington Hills, Mich.): I’m flummoxed. Can you please give us a rational explanation on why Aron Baynes signed – for less money than he turned down – with Boston after all the hoopla on why he left Detroit.
Langlois: Good question and a reminder that free agency is a windfall for some and not so much for others and, ultimately, a gamble for all but the guys who are no-brainer maximum contract players. Last summer there was a robust market for backup big men. Timofey Mozgov ($65 million), Ian Mahinmi ($64 million) and Bismack Biyombo ($72 million) all got the maximum term for free agents signing with another team (four years) at high annual average value. It was a bubble year, though, the season where the cap jumped $30 million. This year the cap actually was dialed backward from projections. But with so many teams committing to big, multiyear deals last season, the reality is there just weren’t that many with significant (or any) cap space this season and nobody was throwing money at big men. Dwayne Dedmon finally got a deal Tuesday for a reported $14 million over two years – compare that to last year’s deals. (Willie Reed, JaVale McGee and Nerlens Noel remain unsigned.) When the Pistons saw the Mozgov, Mahinmi and Biyombo deals last summer, they acted to spend the money they had under the cap to sign Boban Marjanovic in large part because they knew they would not have cap space this summer to sign a backup big man. Baynes held an option for 2017-18 and the Pistons – because they only held his partial Bird rights – were limited to paying him 175 percent of his 2016-17 salary. That totaled $11.375 million. Baynes’ option for next season with the Pistons would have paid him $6.5 million. So he obviously expected to get an offer above that – but there are no guarantees. So to directly answer your question of why he signed with Boston for less – for a reported $4.3 million for one year – it’s almost certainly because that was his best offer. To clarify: He opted out of his deal with the Pistons for $6.5 million so that was no longer an option for him. The good news for Baynes is that he’s going to a very good team that has a clear need for a big man who can rebound and defend. He’ll get plenty of minutes and hit the market again next summer to try again.
Big-E (@emcno505): Do you think Tobias will stay at the four or play at the three?
Langlois: That’s going to depend more on how others perform than how Harris plays. He can play either one and about equally effectively. There are some threes who’d challenge him defensively – the same ones who challenge everyone defensively – and some fours who’ll give him size issues. First in the line of “others” who’ll determine where Harris plays: Stanley Johnson. If I had to guess today, I’d think Van Gundy’s preference is for Johnson to play well enough to win the position in training camp because he’s got a shot to be a better defender against guys like LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo and whoever else counts as the best small forwards in the East now that Paul George and Jimmy Butler have moved West. I wouldn’t discount the possibility that Van Gundy uses Johnson and Jon Leuer as rotating starters depending on the night’s matchup with Harris the constant in the starting lineup. Another way of answering your question: It almost doesn’t matter. I saw Brad Stevens the other day saying he doesn’t have five positions any longer, but three: ballhandlers, wings and bigs. Because most teams are playing only one true big at a time, Harris – a wing by Stevens’ description – can play either forward spot interchangeably against many teams.
Darrell (Detroit): I like the moves the Pistons have made thus far. With the roster at 13 players, what additional moves might the Pistons make? I know the team is guard heavy, but I really like what I saw from Pierre Jackson. He looks like a poor man’s Isaiah Thomas. He’d be a nice protection against injury and the prospect of Avery Bradley not returning next season.
Langlois: They have three open roster spots – two if they guarantee the contract of Michael Gbinije – but indications are they’ll fill only two and then sign two more players to two-way contracts. They aren’t going to sign another point guard, Stan Van Gundy said earlier this week, but if nobody else gives Jackson a guaranteed deal I would be surprised only if the Pistons did not highly consider Jackson on a two-way deal. I think he showed in Orlando that he’s an NBA point guard, especially in today’s game with a greater emphasis on making plays off the dribble and exploiting the open spaces provided by 3-point shooters spreading the floor. Since the Pistons don’t plan to sign a pure No. 3 point guard – Langston Galloway will fill that role while also backing up at shooting guard – the Pistons might have that much of an edge over other teams interested in Jackson on a two-way deal. As for what they’ll do with the two roster spots, keep reading.
Adam (St. Petersburgh, Fla.): Is there a chance the Pistons will bring Reggie Bullock back?
Langlois: I think so, with a couple of caveats. It’s already been reported that the sides have agreed to terms and indications are the second year is not guaranteed. That makes sense. I’m pretty sure the Pistons want to fill the 13th and 14th roster spots with players on one-year contracts to create as much flexibility as possible for next summer. Bullock would fit because he’d give them another shooter and, at 6-foot-7, he’s a bigger shooting guard than the two newcomers added, Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway. Similarly, the other need is probably for a different type of defender at power forward to complement Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson. Like Bullock, another ex-Piston has been reported to be the fit there: Anthony Tolliver, also on a one-year deal as reported. We know Tolliver is a good 3-point shooter who attempted 80 percent of his shots from the arc during his last season with the Pistons, 2015-16. He’s also a very sound defender probably better suited to guarding players that might prove troublesome for Leuer or Ellenson.
Ken (Dharamsala, India): Now that the smoke has cleared a little bit, where are the Pistons, cap-wise, for the near future? Could Aron Baynes be a Piston next year?
Langlois: Four days ago, I couldn’t tell you where Aron Baynes was going to land for this season. You’d have as good a chance predicting where he winds up next year by throwing darts blindfolded. The Pistons are probably unlikely for the same reason they were this year: As it stands now, they have $32 million invested in centers Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic for 2018-19 with Eric Moreland also under contract, though reportedly not guaranteed for that season. Center figures to be pretty low on the priority list. As for their cap situation for next season, it doesn’t appear as if the Pistons will have cap space. They could get there with some maneuvering – including renouncing Avery Bradley to wipe out his $13 million cap hole – but it won’t be a big summer in free agency for the Pistons next year, most likely.
Paul (Phoenix): The quick signing of Langston Galloway after the draft was a clear statement that KCP was a goner. That $7 million a year was money for KCP. Why didn’t they trade KCP before the draft or dump Reggie Jackson for a second-rounder. That would have freed enough up for KCP. They still could’ve traded for Bradley and started him at point guard. Detroit will regret letting KCP walk for nothing and will miss his play.
Langlois: I’ll start with this: The only guys you wind up losing for nothing are players who’d get more than a maximum salary if the NBA didn’t have a rule tamping down what individual players can earn. So if LeBron James or Kevin Durant walk, yeah, you’re not replacing that – no way, no how. Anybody short of that leaves and it creates a money void to be filled by the players you plug in their stead. When someone like Caldwell-Pope walks, you spread the money out to others. It’s fair to guess that Caldwell-Pope’s side wanted a five-year, $100 million-plus contract. Actually, it’s fair to guess they wanted what Otto Porter got – a max offer sheet of four years for $106 million – but at least expected to get a $20 million annual average. (That they reportedly accepted a one-year deal at $18 million from the Lakers, in fact, proves it. They weren’t taking a lower annual average over the chance to try again in free agency next summer, so went the fairly unusual and somewhat risky route of taking a one-year deal.) Signing him to that, as I wrote this week, would have given the Pistons their shooting guard for the next five years and eliminated uncertainty over whether Avery Bradley will stay or leave next summer. But here’s what else it would have done: essentially set the Pistons roster for the foreseeable future. Their cap flexibility would have been nil. You’d have to be really certain you like that team because you’d be locked in. As for Bradley as a full-time point guard, that’s not a sound plan. He’s above average as a secondary ballhandler – better off the dribble than Caldwell-Pope – and he can give the Pistons minutes at point guard. But I wouldn’t bet that he’ll play a meaningful minute there next season except defensively. They’ve got Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Galloway ahead of him at the point. As for your contention that Caldwell-Pope was a goner when Galloway signed, that’s just wrong. Van Gundy said at Monday’s press conference that he was signed more as protection – against Jackson not bouncing back fully from injury and against Caldwell-Pope getting an offer that blew them away. But they did not make the decision to cut ties with Caldwell-Pope by signing Galloway. Even in a vacuum, the Pistons wanted Galloway because he shot 39 percent from three last season (with more than half his attempts coming from the arc), could serve as another secondary ballhandler and would help their defense – three areas Van Gundy cited when the season ended that needed upgrading.
Bob (Albany, Oregon): Great trade for Bradley. Certainly, KCP and Marcus Morris will be missed for their class and abilities. Given the player movement, Morris was the best chip to facilitate such a deal with his contract. KCP simply was a casualty of the numbers crunch. My take is now to leave Harris as the sixth man with Johnson and Leuer starting at forward and opening minutes for Ellenson. The Pistons are now loaded with multipositional players to augment Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond.
Langlois: It was my hunch all along that Morris was the most likely starter to be traded precisely because of his contract. It was too attractive and was bound to draw the most compelling offers. Even teams that might have preferred Tobias Harris to Morris would look at the cost – Harris will earn about three times what Morris will make over the next two seasons – and easily decide on Morris as the target. When Boston needed to shed a starter to fit Gordon Hayward’s contract under the cap, Bradley became available. Taking Harris wasn’t possible, given Boston’s cap circumstance. Getting Morris opened up $3 million in cap space to give Boston the room to sign Hayward. I would wager a bagel that Harris will be an opening night starter. It might be he still starts at power forward, too, with Stanley Johnson starting at small forward and Jon Leuer coming off the bench, as I detailed above. He’s a great luxury to have off the bench as a scorer and, in fact, I’d guess that Stan Van Gundy will stagger his rotation so that Harris comes out of the game midway through the first and third quarters so he can anchor second-unit scoring. It’s just tough to play a guy the minutes Van Gundy likely wants to play Harris and have him not start games. It really means he has to play the last 16 to 18 minutes of each half without rest. But you could be right. Bradley gives the Pistons a more consistent No. 2 scorer than they’ve had to pair with Jackson. Some of it will be driven by need and performance of the second unit. If Langston Galloway or Luke Kennard give the Pistons reliable scoring, maybe Van Gundy won’t feel pressed to have Harris play that role. If the second unit struggles to score, then maybe he’ll move Harris back to that role.