Detroit Pistons Offseason to-do list: Using Cap Space in Trades

The Detroit Pistons will be able to use their cap space this summer to absorb unwanted contracts in exchange for assets.

The Detroit Pistons are one of only SIX teams projected to have cap space this summer, and they’re projected to have somewhere around $30M to spend. I already wrote about one route the Pistons could take with spending their money in free agency, but when it comes down to it, using their cap space on the trade market could be more valuable long term.

The general concept is simple: a team looking to create cap space in order to either avoid the luxury tax, or create flexibility to make a free agent signing or a trade, will give the Pistons an asset (first round pick, young player, etc) in exchange for taking a bad contract or two off their hands.

Last summer the Pistons took on an extra year of Tony Snell’s $12 million per year contract in exchange for the 30th pick in the 2019 NBA draft.

In this deal, the Bucks took back Jon Leuer, who they waived and stretched which means they’re only on the hook for $3 million per year for his contract through ‘21-‘22. We’ll use that as a barometer. $9 million in savings = the 30th pick in the NBA draft.

I’ve put together a comprehensive list of 11 teams who could be motivated to create some cap space this summer, and the Pistons are one of only a few teams who can take advantage of that.

This list includes teams who were eliminated earlier than expected in the playoffs and need to shake things up, young up and coming teams looking to make a push this year, and teams just looking to avoid the luxury tax.

Teams get desperate when they need to make a change and they have limited financial resources at their disposal. Last summer the Suns PAID the Pacers a 2nd round pick to take T.J. Warren (I’ll never forgive Jeff Bower for not giving him to Detroit), just so they could shake up their rotation and sign Ricky Rubio.

To make space to sign D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors gave the Memphis Grizzlies a first round pick last summer to take on Andre Iguodala’s $16 million salary. Then the Grizzlies flipped Iguodala to Miami in exchange for Justise Winslow. These are the type of moves the Pistons are in a position to pull off this time around.

As of today, the salary cap for next season is projected to be $115 million. This could obviously change as COVID has made this a fluid discussion between the NBA and NBPA, but the final number shouldn’t be far off of that.

Things change quickly in the NBA, and new teams might thrust themselves on this list at any moment. Any one of the teams on this list could become more or less desperate depending on how draft night and the beginning of free agency go, so take this list as a roadmap of a portion of possibilities, rather than sure fire options. The offseason is just one big game of dominoes.

Timberwolves:  Missed the playoffs and should be looking to push for one of those top 8 spots this year after acquiring D’Angelo Russell at the trade deadline

Cap space committed for next season: $107 million (Includes 1st pick’s salary)

Notable free agent to re-sign: Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez

Most expendable contract: James Johnson $16 million per year through 20-21

Realistic moveable asset: 17th pick in the 2020 draft, IF they draft Anthony Edwards and intend on re-signing Malik Beasley, I see a world where Jarrett Culver could be in play in the right scenario, but they would have to get something other than cap space in return.

Nuggets:  Exceeded expectations in the playoffs, making it to the conference finals, and should be looking to cash in and make a real run for it with their young team

Cap space committed for next season: $107 million ($98 million if Jerami Grant opts out, which he has hinted at doing)

Notable free agent to re-sign: Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig

Most expendable contract: Gary Harris $19 million per year through 21-22, Will Barton $14 M per year through 21/22

Realistic moveable asset: 22nd pick in the 2020 draft, future picks

Magic:  Stuck in mediocrity after committing a bunch of money to role players (Us Pistons fans feel this pain all too much). Going 33-40 and grabbing the 8 seed is a great set up for a shake up.

Cap space committed for next season: $122 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: D.J. Augustin

Most expendable contracts: Al-Farouq Aminu – $10 million per year through 21-22, Terrence Ross – $12.5 per year through ’22-’23

Realistic moveable asset: 15th pick in the 2020 draft

Bucks:  Early exit from the playoffs – Lost 4-1 in the second round to the Heat

Cap space committed for next season: $132 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver

Most expendable contracts: George Hill $10 million per year through 21-22, Brook Lopez $13 million per year through 22-23, Eric Bledsoe $18 million per year through ’22-’23

Realistic moveable asset: 24th pick in the 2020 draft, Donte DiVincenzo (Depending on how desperate they are to move some contracts), future picks

Sixers:  Early exit from the playoffs – Got swept in the first round by the Celtics

Cap space committed for next season: $147 million (yikes)

Notable free agent to re-sign: Alec Burks

Most expendable contract: Al Horford $27 million per year 22-23, Tobias Harris $36 million per year through 23-24

Realistic moveable asset: Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle (Depending on how desperate they get to move some contracts), Furkan Korkmaz, All of the picks

Jazz: Early exit from the playoffs – Blew a 3-1 lead to lose to the Nuggets in the first round

Cap space committed for next season: $118 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Jordan Clarkson, Emmanuel Mudiay

Most expendable contract: Mike Conley $34 million per year through 20-21

Realistic moveable asset: 23rd pick in the 2020 draft, future picks

Rockets: Early exit from the playoffs – Lost 4-1 in the second round to the Lakers

Cap space committed for next season: $130 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Jeff Green

Most expendable contract: Eric Gordon $18 million per year through 23-24

Realistic moveable asset: Future first round pick

Blazers: Snuck into the playoffs after an injury riddled season. With a core of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony, it’s now or never.

Cap space committed for next season: $109 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside

Most expendable contract: Trevor Ariza – $13 million per year through 20-21, Rodney Hood $6  million per year through 20-21

Realistic moveable asset: 16th pick in the 2020 draft

Pacers: Early exit from the playoffs – Got swept in the first round by the Heat

Cap space committed for next season: $124 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Justin Holiday

Most expendable contract: Jeremy Lamb – $10.5 million per year through ’21-’22, Doug McDermott – $7.5 million per year through ’20-’21, Myles Turner (IF they decide to go this route, they wouldn’t give up an asset to move him, but he could be had) – $18 million per year through ’22-’23

Realistic moveable asset: Myles Turner, Their own 1st round pick(s) 2021 and beyond

Cavaliers: The Cavs are a wild card. You may be thinking “Jordan, why would a team like the Cavs be giving up any assets to clear up space and spend money on free agents or trades?”

Great question, thanks for asking.

Having just traded for Andre Drummond this past season, and continuing to pay Kevin Love as much money as possible, the Cavs may view that front court duo, along with their young guards and the 5th pick in this year’s draft, as a team who can compete for a playoff spot in the weak eastern conference.

Cap space committed for next season: $110 million

Notable free agent to re-sign: Tristan Thompson

Most expendable contract: Larry Nance Jr. – $10 million per year through ’22-’23, Dante Exum – $10 million expiring deal this year

Realistic moveable asset: Future picks, depending on how their summer goes, one of their young point guards could be available in the right scenario.

Lakers: Defending champs looking to bolster the roster for a repeat

Cap space committed for next season: $119 million

Notable free agents to re-sign: Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Rajon Rondo

Most expendable contract: Danny Green $15 million per year through 20-21

Realistic moveable asset: 28th pick in the 2020 draft, Kyle Kuzma (They would need something in return in this scenario too, wouldn’t just attach Kuzma in a straight salary dump after winning the championship)