AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons got more off-season than they anticipated or desired, their uniforms laundered and stored before the NBA playoffs rolled out over the weekend. Their 37-45 record idled them before April was halfway in the books, but there were no weekend cruises or golf outings arranged for Stan Van Gundy and his staff.
They were back to work Thursday, hours after the season ended in a loss at Orlando, with the first order of business a no-holds-barred internal review of everything that happened involving everyone who made it happen since they gathered to get 2016-17 off and running late fall.
There will be roster tweaking at a minimum before they reconvene for a final season at their Auburn Hills practice facility ahead of the move to a new Detroit headquarters. And perhaps more. A blockbuster trade isn’t likely – those are rare, difficult to execute and often risky. And the Pistons, for all the disappointment they endured in a season that began with expectations not felt around 6 Championship Drive in a decade, aren’t about to risk three years of diligent roster reconstruction on one moon-shot roll of the dice.
But set your dial at 50-50 on a lesser deal involving one or more of the nine players who comprised Van Gundy’s most typical rotation pattern.
That internal review will take up the rest of April and then the focus will swing toward 2017-18. Here’s a look at the key dates on the off-season calendar that will guide the front office led by Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower:
The NBA draft combine, May 9-14 – The top 60 draft-eligible prospects, give or take a player a two, come to Chicago where they’ll be poked, prodded and measured. The NBA has altered the makeup of the combine over the past two years to include sessions of honest-to-goodness, five-on-five basketball. Lottery prospects won’t participate in that, but it gives teams a better handle on second-round prospects and provides players still on the fence about staying in or pulling out of the draft a more realistic snap shot of their status.
NBA draft lottery – May 16 is the date when the Pistons find out for sure where they’ll be picking. In the dark years between 2010 and 2015 when they failed to make the playoffs six straight seasons, the Pistons didn’t pull a top-three pick in any draft. They went into the draft with the seventh pick three times, the eighth pick twice and the nine pick once. Three times they were jumped one spot – and in 2014, Van Gundy’s first draft with the Pistons, it cost them their first-rounder altogether as a condition of a 2012 trade with Charlotte that protected the pick through the top eight. The Pistons go into this year’s lottery in the 12th spot. Under the current weighted lottery system, the longest odds any team beat to get the No. 1 pick came in 2008 when Chicago, with a 1.7 percent chance at the top pick, won the right to select hometown hero Derrick Rose. The Pistons have a 0.7 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick.
Predraft workouts – They’ll start in earnest after the combine and continue up until the week of the draft. The Pistons don’t have a second-round pick this season, so that might curtail the number of workouts they can arrange. There will be a range of players whose agents expect them to be taken somewhere between the lottery and the middle of the second round who figure to be reluctant to work out for a team with only its lottery pick.
NBA draft – The draft comes on June 22. The Pistons have no obvious roster hole with multiple players under contract at all five positions. Stan Van Gundy’s ideal likely would be to find the best 3-point shooter in the draft at the 12th pick, but they won’t reach for any particular skill or position. The Pistons will take – altogether now – the best player available.
NBA free agency – It opens, as always, on July 1. The Pistons will be over the cap. Their major piece of off-season business will be to come to terms with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a restricted free agent. He can shop himself to all 29 other teams and those with ample cap space can offer him anything up to and including a four-year deal for the NBA maximum. The Pistons have given every indication they expect him back next season.
Reggie Bullock also will be a restricted free agent. Given the price tag for Caldwell-Pope and the presence of young players on rookie deals – Stanley Johnson, Darrun Hilliard, Michael Gbinije – who also can play that position, it’s tough to see the Pistons spending money on both Caldwell-Pope and Bullock.
Aron Baynes is also 99 percent likely to become a free agent by opting out of his contract. The Pistons are limited to offering him 175 percent of his 2016-17 salary of $6.5 million, or $11.375 million, in first-year salary on a new contract. The Pistons are almost certain Baynes will get an offer beyond their means to match. That’s why they used up the cap space they had left over last summer after signing Ish Smith and Jon Leuer to add Boban Marjanovic.
The Pistons will have the mid-level exception available to them, approximately $5.8 million. They can spend that on one player or break it up over multiple players. Bower indicated last week using it on more than one player was the likelier option.
NBA Summer League – The Pistons will again compete in the Orlando Summer League, which starts play on July 1 and wraps up July 7. Each team plays five games. Last year’s draft picks, Henry Ellenson and Gbinije, are expected to be part of the team. It’s certainly possible that Hilliard will be, as well, and Johnson indicated he’d sign off on participating if Van Gundy decides he’d like him on the team. The No. 1 pick almost certainly will be part of the Summer League team unless there are extenuating circumstances – an injury situation, or a player drafted with international team commitments, perhaps.