As simple as the reported Pistons-Cavaliers-Timberwolves trade appears for Detroit – Richard Hamilton and the No. 8 pick to Cleveland for essentially nothing – the ramifications are fairly complicated. Let’s try to sort through them.
Creating cap room
The first question that comes up about the trade typically involves cap space.
The new Collective Bargaining can change any of these rules, but for now, I’ll evaluate using the current rules.
Without Hamilton, the Pistons would have $34,573,920 committed for 2011-12. That covers seven players – Ben Gordon , Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Greg Monroe, Ben Wallace and Austin Daye.
Nearly everyone wants to keep Jonas Jerebko, so Detroit wouldn’t renounce him. His cap hold will be $1,059,293. (The Pistons could, and hopefully would, wait to sign him, because his first-year salary would likely exceed his cap hold. Basically, they’d sign all their other free agents first, then go over the cap to keep Jerebko.) That brings Detroit’s payroll to $35,633,213.
If the Pistons plan to pursue other teams’ free agents, they’d likely have to renounce Tayshaun Prince, Chris Wilcox, Tracy McGrady and DaJuan Summers and release Terrico White, whose contract is fully unguaranteed if waived before July 19, 2011.* The Pistons could sign-and-trade Prince, but they’d have to do so before signing other free agents, because he’ll count at least $11 million against the cap until he signs with any team or the Pistons renounce him. Also, any salary acquire in a Prince sign-and-trade would count against the cap.
*The lockout could prove to be a boon for White. July 19 could easily come and go during a time when teams can’t conduct business. Unless terms for players like White are specifically written into the next CBA, I’d presume his 2011-12 salary would become guaranteed. Maybe the Pistons will be proactive and release him before June 30, when the current CBA expires.
That leaves Rodney Stuckey, whom I’ll address shortly.
The minimum roster size is 12. With eight players (seven under contract and one, Jerebko, who will count as a roster spot), the Pistons would also have three roster charges ($490,180 each) to get to 11.* That puts their salary at $37,103,753.
*I know the Pistons have two second-round picks. Their hold on the salary cap, for all intents and purposes here, is identical to a roster charge.
So, what about Stuckey? The Pistons could renounce him, accept another roster charge and have just $37,593,933 in committed salaries. But as long as they want to retain the right to match a contract he signs elsewhere, he’d count against the cap $8,301,378. Or, if Stuckey signs with Detroit, he’d count for his first-year salary (which hopefully be less than his cap hold).
It all becomes a question of timing (unless the Pistons just want to lose Stuckey, regardless, which seems unlikely) .
Let’s say next year’s salary cap is identical to this year’s ($58,044,00). With Stuckey’s cap hold, the Pistons would have $12,638,869 to sign free agents in addition to Stuckey and Jerebko. They could boost that number to $20,450,067 by renouncing Stuckey and the right to match offers he signs with other teams.
Here’s where the timing issue gets complicated.
Many, myself included, think Detroit could sign Stuckey to a reasonable offer by waiting for other teams to offer him first. But if the Pistons want to use that strategy, he counts $8.3 million against the cap in the meantime.
If Stuckey signs an offer sheet with another team before other free agents the Pistons are targeting sign, they could be left with nobody if they don’t match Stuckey’s offer.
What happens if the Pistons renounce Stuckey to sign another restricted free agent (e.g., DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Greg Oden) and the other restricted free agent’s team matches? Teams can un-renounce players if they did so to sign a restricted free agent and the restricted free agent’s original team matches the offer. But would the Pistons regain the right of first refusal, and what if Stuckey signs elsewhere while the Pistons are waiting on the other team to match? I’ve asked Larry Coon to explain, and I’ll post his answers.
Basically, using this year’s salary cap, the Pistons would have $12,638,869 in cap room this summer if they keep Stuckey’s rights. That number could increase (more likely) or decrease (gosh, I hope not) slightly if they sign Stuckey. Or, they could renounce Stuckey and have $20,450,067 to spend on free agents.
Of course, the huge risk with making this trade before the draft is that the new CBA disappears the newly created cap room.
Richard Hamilton’s value
At this year’s trade deadline, Richard Hamilton had negative value. That’s likely still the case.
So, it seems a bit absurd for people to claim the Pistons definitely wouldn’t make this deal. They’re not that different.
Of course, Hamilton’s contract is a little shorter now than in February. The No. 8 pick is probably more a little more valuable than a lottery-protected 2012 first-round pick, but given the poor quality of this year’s draft – and by extension, the large number of underclassmen who would’ve typically come out this year who will instead go pro in 2012 – the difference isn’t huge. Tom Gores buying the team changes some things, too. But overall, if the earlier trade was palatable, this one should at least get consideration from the Pistons.
Making the trade viable
Even if the Pistons wanted to make this trade from a payroll-structure/basketball standpoint, I doubt they would. There’s no way to sell it to the fans.
The Pistons have said they need to receive a player in return to make the deal. Is that because they don’t find the trade appealing? Or is that just so they can spin this trade to look good for fans? Either is possible, and the fix is the same: another player.
Just because the Pistons have turned down this version of the trade, we don’t necessarily have us more info about how much they value Hamilton and the No. 8 pick.
Fixing the culture
There are certainly NBA players who are unhappy with their teams and just playing out their contracts. Nothing will appease them, except a change of venue. They’re miserable, and by extension, they make their teammates miserable.
Joe Dumars understands this. That’s why he’s always said he’d trade anyone who wants out. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s large contract has prevented Dumars from trading him.
Making this move or a similar move would benefit Detroit’s culture. As someone outside of the Pistons’ locker room, it’s impossible for us to know how much help the deal would provide. That’s why I’m hesitant to say the trade would absolutely be a mistake.
NBA transactions can’t always be analyzed in simple terms of the amount of direct benefit a team receives. There’s a contingent of agents, advisors, etc. involved who work frequently with every team. As Henry Abbott once explained, it’s like selling a house to your cousin. You’re not just trying to extract as much value to your side as you can.
Leon Rose, Hamilton’s agent, did the Pistons a favor by insisting the Nets include Hamilton in the proposed Carmelo Anthony trade. The Pistons could do Rose a favor by making this trade. That’s how business in the NBA works sometimes.
The Pistons will have to deal with Rose again, most immediately this summer with Stuckey’s free agency. Maybe they don’t save any money on Stuckey by making this trade (that would be an unethical promise for Rose to make, because wouldn’t be fair to Stuckey), but maybe Rose gives Detroit a better picture of his client’s offers. That could help the Pistons navigate some of the challenges listed above.
Effect of an amnesty provision
If the next Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a one-time amnesty provision, similar to the Allan Houston rule, the Pistons could release one player who wouldn’t count against the luxury tax. Conventional wisdom says the prospect of releasing Hamilton means they shouldn’t make this trade. After all, why give up the No. 8 pick to clear salary if they can accomplish the same result with the amnesty provision?
The first issue is the amnesty provision, as currently constructed, would only affect the luxury tax, not the salary cap. So, the Pistons, who aren’t near the tax line, wouldn’t benefit much from releasing Hamilton.
But what if the final version of the clause provides teams with cap relief and the Pistons would prefer to cut Charlie Villanueva (who I think is the favorite to get the axe), Jason Maxiell or Ben Gordon. Keep in mind, Detroit would still have to pay the released player.
Right now, the Pistons can tell Hamilton they can’t trade him. With his contract and age, there certainly isn’t a market for his services. As much as Hamilton wants out, I’d think he understands that.
But if the Pistons could release Hamilton without cap or tax penalty, he’d almost certainly expect Detroit would make him its amnesty-provision casualty. I’d guess Dumars has been telling Hamilton he’s trying to trade him. From Hamilton’s perspective, this would be the perfect out. How could Dumars deny him now after months of saying he’s trying to trade him (if that’s the scenario)?
That would likely mean a malcontent become unhappier. Rose probably wouldn’t appreciate Detroit cutting someone else, either. See the issues I discussed in the previous two sections for why this matters.
Trades like this aren’t desirable, but the Pistons have their backs against the wall. This might their best chance at avoiding bigger problems in the near future.