Offseason Moves Could Cost Pistons Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Mar 29, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) battle for the ball during the third quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Detroit Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) battle for the ball during the third quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

 Detroit Pistons may be risking the loss of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope by overspending on the 2016-17 class of free agents. Let’s investigate how and why.

We can all agree free agency has been crazy. Every team has (had) money to spend at the same time, creating a panic-driven frenzy resulting in mediocre players getting big contracts. Though the Detroit Pistons were certainly not the worst offenders (see the Los Angeles Lakers) this off-season, the Jon Leuer and Boban Marjanovic signings were real head scratchers for me.

Why Jon Leuer?

I can see why the Pistons had Jon Leuer targeted before the draft. Solid bench player, a little younger and bigger than Anthony Tolliver, plus versatility to play the four or five. Like Tolliver though, not a lot of room for growth. Leuer is a role player with the upside of a ninth or tenth man on a decent team. With the big jump in the salary cap, I could have gotten behind a two or three year deal at $6 to 8 million per year for Leuer.

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That was before the draft.

After drafting Henry Ellenson, how does Stan Van Gundy not flip the script on the free agent target list? Now, not only did they over pay a very limited role player-type guy, they also slotted him in the rotation in front of their new 19-year old building block.

Ellenson reminds me (from a talent/potential/NBA-readiness perspective) of Stanley Johnson coming in last year. He has some skills that translate right away, and some things that he needs to work on. Both players seem to have All Star potential and extreme confidence. Both ready for immediate contribution.

Maybe this season, some guys get hurt and both Leuer and Ellenson end up contributing to another playoff run. But as of today, the Pistons have either paid Jon Leuer $10 million annually for four years, to not play, or, in an even worse scenario, their steal-of-the-draft building block is five-deep on a four-person depth chart for the foreseeable future.

Why Marjanovic?

First point: See last sentence of previous paragraph about Ellenson being the Pistons’ fifth big. That makes Boban their sixth. He is this year’s Joel Anthony. He will only play in blowouts or extreme cases of foul trouble or injury. The difference is, Joel was due to make $2.5 million, Boban gets $7 million.

The argument I have heard is that Aron Baynes may opt out next year, leaving the team without a backup center.

I would argue, instead of signing Boban, they could have:

A.) Signed someone next year
B.) Drafted one in the second round this year, which would have required trading up a few spots.
C.) Play newly acquired Jon Leuer at the backup five next year.

All seem like better options than letting $7 million chill at the end of our bench for a season. Option C even creates minutes for Ellenson.

Thoughts on Ish Smith:

Did the Pistons overpay? Yes. 

Is he a solid player at an actual position of need? Yes.

Frankly, Detroit is not currently a free agent destination. Jeremy Lin wasn’t coming to Detroit to be a sixth man.

The common thread with all of of the Pistons’ signings (Meeks, Baynes, Josh Smith, etc…) is that the organization must overpay to get guys. I don’t know if any better point guard wanted to go to Detroit. Ish was ready to sign, and the organization needed him. It was a good move. I would have felt similarly about the Jon Leuer signing had the Pistons not just drafted Ellenson.

What about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

Here’s a more frugal off-season plan:

  1. Play the kid you drafted in the first round as your fourth big.
  2. Give Ellenson 15-20 minutes per night and play him at center in the Midwest version of the Death Lineup.
  3. Don’t sign Leuer or Boban.
  4. Resign KCP with the $17 million you saved!

The Pistons are about to be flirting with the luxury tax and there is a very real possibility that Van Gundy has to get cheap with Caldwell-Pope when it comes extension time. This could potentially cost the Pistons a key piece of their young core.

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Make-believe scenario:

The Pistons didn’t sign anyone this offseason yet. A three-way trade is proposed; we get Boban and Jon Leuer, we give up KCP.

Would any Pistons fan in their right mind make that trade? Could you imagine how many Western conference teams would be whetting their chops for a chance to roster the Stephen Curry-stopper?

This is my number one-with-a-bullet reason why I dislike these two signings as of today: They might end up costing the Pistons Caldwell-Pope.

Two Caveats: Everything changes if…

  1. Van Gundy pulls off a trade where we get fewer players back then we send out.
  2. Pistons’ owner Tom Gores has committed to keeping Caldwell-Pope even if it lands the organization in the luxury tax.

Next: It's time for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shine for the Detroit Pistons

Bottom Line:

All dollars aside, by replacing Joel Anthony and Anthony Tolliver with Leuer and Boban, the Pistons are a deeper, better team. Let’s just hope Van Gundy still has a wad of that Monopoly money left for KCP.