The Detroit Pistons should have flexibility in free agency. If that proves to be the case, then Toronto Raptors star Fred VanVleet should be a top target.
The Detroit Pistons could have as much as upwards of $42 million in practical cap space during the 2020 period of free agency. This is based on the assumption that Bird rights will be renounced and the most costly of cap holds will thus be removed from the books.
If such were to play out, the Pistons could find themselves in a position to do what many franchises are financially unable to: Acquire or re-sign a series of high-level players.
The impact of COVID-19 on the NBA’s salary cap has yet to be seen, but the Pistons could still be buyers this coming offseason. Whether or not that’s the optimal route to follow is another conversation entirely, but the option could present itself to general manager Troy Weaver.
In that scenario, the Pistons would have a chance to add both a top-10 pick at the 2020 NBA Draft and a group of veterans to improve the roster’s short-term potential.
As the Pistons evaluate their options, there’s one player who should be at the top of the list of priorities: Fred VanVleet. The Toronto Raptors breakout star has pieced together an exceptional two-year stretch, greatly increasing his market value in the process.
His appeal to the Pistons all begins with the fact that VanVleet has an existing relationship with the Pistons’ current head coach: Dwane Casey.
The Dwane Casey Factor
There’s no denying that Nick Nurse has firmly solidified his status as one of the NBA’s truly elite head coaches. He led Toronto to its first-ever championship in his first season at the helm and brought it right back to 50-win status in 2019-20 after losing Kawhi Leonard.
Before Nurse took over, however, it was current Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey who was quite successful in that same position with the Raptors.
Casey led Toronto to five consecutive postseason appearances, which far exceeded the previous franchise record of three. During that time, Toronto won 50-plus games in three separate seasons, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015-16.
Casey also gave a chance to an undrafted free agent named Fred VanVleet—something that the pending free agent has not forgotten, per Vince Ellis of The Detroit Free Press:
“’Case was huge for me,” Raptors point guard and conference finals hero Fred VanVleet said. “He believed in me, he gave me a shot when most people thought I didn’t belong in the NBA.
Perhaps that means there’s room for a reunion.
It’s generally accepted that Toronto is the favorite to re-sign VanVleet, but Detroit shouldn’t be too far behind. This would be a grand opportunity for VanVleet to reunite with the coach who gave him an NBA lifeline and build something special in Detroit.
It may not be enough to pull this deal off, but the relationship between Casey and VanVleet could give the Pistons an outside chance.
The biggest reason to believe in the Fred VanVleet hype is that he’s the prototypical modern point guard. While he may split those duties with Kyle Lowry in Toronto, he’s proven to be able to lead the offense and make plays as both a scorer and facilitator.
In 2019-20, VanVleet reached the level of a borderline All-Star—and he could make that final leap if he joins the team in Detroit.
The 26-year-old finished the 2019-20 season with averages of 17.6 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 2.7 three-point field goals made per game. He did so on a slash line of .413/.390/.848.
That may not be the most efficient field goal percentage, but VanVleet is a confident scorer who can overwhelm teams from beyond the arc in big moments.
VanVleet has limitations as a scorer, including finishing at the rim and converting from midrange, but his ability to bury the three-ball is of significant—and proven—value. He’s a career 39.3 percent shooter from distance, which is due in large part to his ability to convert off the bounce.
The Pistons may not make an immediate leap to championship contention with VanVleet on the roster, but he and Blake Griffin would make for a special pick and roll duo.
Making Others Better
It can’t be stated enough how difficult it is to win a championship in the NBA. As such, the players who provide pivotal contributions to a title-winning team are often heralded as the best of the best in their respective tiers.
One of the primary reasons that this reputation is developed is that those who win championships were likely required to make sacrifices for the betterment of the team.
VanVleet is the type of player who’s not only willing to make sacrifices, but is able to make those around him better. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.95 is proof of his passing ability, but it’s bigger than the basic statistics.
In 2019-20, VanVleet ranked 10th amongst shooting guards and 15th amongst point guards in Real Plus-Minus—with positive marks on both ends of the floor.
He’s still coming into his own as a player, but his ability to space the floor simplifies the game for players who prefer to operate inside—such as Blake Griffin or Christian Wood. His drive-and-kick ability also creates opportunities for shooters—such as Luke Kennard and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
The Pistons would need to do more than just sign VanVleet and hope for the best, but bringing him to Detroit could be the first domino.
The Detroit Pistons will have other options to consider, but a sharpshooting guard who creates for others sounds like a perfect fit with Dwane Casey.