Detroit Pistons set for loads of cap space in 2024 summer. Who might actually come here?

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The Detroit Pistons are once again set up for a large chunk of cap space, this time in the summer of 2024.

But what does that actually mean in today’s NBA, and which players will really be out there?

The Pistons are projected for at least $50 million in cap space next summer. They used their roughly $30 million in cap space this summer to take on expiring contracts Joe Harris and Monte Morris in low stakes trades, opting to maintain flexibility.

General manager Troy Weaver next year will need to pay someone to reach the minimum team salary set at 90% of the salary cap (which could be more than $145 million), and 2024 could be the final summer with major cap space if the Pistons agree to a rookie extension with Cade Cunningham before the 2024-25 season.

Pistons guaranteed money on the cap sheet for 2024-25, as of late July:

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Note: The Pistons also have gigantic cap holds on James Wiseman, Harris, Killian Hayes, Morris and Alec Burks, so figuring out after the season whether to renounce the rights to some (meaning they then could not re-sign them while over the cap) or negotiate a lower salary deal to return will play into their final cap space number.

Having oodles of cap space doesn’t mean what it used to. Teams rarely let “star” players reach unrestricted free agency anymore, thanks to the advent of the supermax extension and the heightened incentive to extend contracts before they expire. (See Jaylen Brown, Dejounte Murray and Domantas Sabonis, who each signed big money extensions in July to bypass 2024 free agency.) Fred VanVleet is the lone recent All-Star this offseason to reach the market and sign for big money with a new team.

Front offices know losing an All-Star caliber player for nothing can be the death knell to contention hopes, particularly for non-glamour market franchises like the Pistons.

Those factors may indicate the Pistons are more likely to strike on the trade market leading up to the season or in-season before February’s trade deadline.

However, teams sending away an All-NBA or All-Star caliber player need a combination of draft assets, promising prospects and salary matching.

The Pistons have ample choices for the latter two requirements, yet little future draft capital to spare.

They will be clinging to their recent first-round lottery picks which make up their new core: Cunningham, Ivey, Duren and Thompson.

Jaden Ivey, left, and Cade Cunningham, right, are the biggest keys to the Pistons' rebuild.

Jaden Ivey, left, and Cade Cunningham, right, are the biggest keys to the Pistons’ rebuild.

The big problem: The earliest future first-round pick the Pistons can currently trade is in 2029. They owe a protected pick — from the 2020 draft deal that resulted in adding Stewart — to the New York Knicks. (The pick is protected for selections 1-18 in 2024, 1-13 in 2025, 1-11 in 2026 and 1-9 in 2027; if not conveyed, converts to 2027 second-round pick.) They cannot offer a second first-round pick in a package, though they could dangle pick swaps should they retain their first-rounder in the coming years. (They are plus-one in future second-round picks.)

Therefore the only way they’ll be able to compete in trades to acquire a great player would be to include a member of their core.

The Pistons are in desperate need of a big wing in his prime with a baseline requirement of “3-and-D” skills. The 3-point shooting from Cunningham, Ivey, Thompson, Duren varies from promising yet unproven, to bad, to non-shooter.

There are at least 10 potential free agents in 2024 who might fit some of the requirements, including: Pascal Siakam, Tobias Harris, Paul George, Klay Thompson, O.G. Anunoby, Patrick Williams (restricted) and Miles Bridges. A handful on this list will get an extension in the next year and a few may be traded, complicating their future.

As a note, other teams projected to have at least $40 million in space to spend in 2024: Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Utah.

Let’s go down the list of names to figure out who the realistic options are and how realistic they may be. This is a best guess ranked in descending order of least likely to be a Piston (top) to most likely (bottom).

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What you will realize: 1) The Pistons are banking on a star turn from Cunningham. If that fails, they won’t be relevant in hardware conversation anytime soon. 2) Making a big impression this season is likely key to trying to sway one of these players. No top players join a 30-win team.

Keep dreaming

Kawhi Leonard

Why: You can immediately eliminate half this list for various reasons which we’ll address, starting with Leonard. Chose his hometown Los Angeles in free agency four years ago. Has a $48.8 million player option for 2024-25 entering his age 33 season, with a calamitous injury history. Has not played more than 60 games in any of the past six seasons, but despite that, remains among the NBA’s best dozen players.

Seems to walk to the beat of his own drum and has no clear ties to the Pistons organization, but of course would be a dynamite addition for any team as one of the sport’s most formidable forces this century. That won’t be in Detroit.

Verdict: Insert Kawhi laugh.

Not happening

DeMar DeRozan

Why: A good player during his career, he will be 35 years old entering the 2024-25 season and is not a roster fit as neither a 3-point floor spacer nor defender.

Verdict: Makes no sense.

Jaden McDaniels

Why: McDaniels is a key building block piece for Minnesota and will likely get a new contract this fall; if not, it can still match any offer sheet next summer.

Verdict: He’s not going anywhere.

Devin Vassell

Why: See above, but substitute “San Antonio” for “Minnesota.” Plus Vassell is 6 feet 5, making him a bit undersized to fill the big wing stopper need.

Verdict: Not leaving.

Miles Bridges

Miles Bridges sat out the entire 2022-23 season due to legal troubles.

Miles Bridges sat out the entire 2022-23 season due to legal troubles.

Why: Bridges, the former Michigan State standout, does not seem like the culture fit Weaver espouses every chance he gets; Bridges in May 2022 was accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend in front of their two children and he missed the entire 2022-23 season. He re-signed with Charlotte for one year this summer. Bridges would not be the worst fit with the Pistons from an on-court skills perspective, but not seamless either.

Verdict: No chance so long as Weaver is here … we think.

Klay Thompson

Why: Thompson will be 34 in February and can’t be expected to resemble the excellent defender he once was before lower leg injuries robbed him of two full seasons. The Pistons would seemingly have to throw an absurd offer to get him to leave Golden State, but he would make a great off-ball threat and bring nearly unmatched championship experience having played in six Finals.

Verdict: Why would the Warriors let him go?

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Paul George

Why: He, like his teammate Leonard, has a player option for $48.8 million in 2024-25 ahead of what will be his age-34 season. Weaver was an assistant GM in Oklahoma City when it traded for George in 2017 so the two have two seasons of experience together. George would be looking for one last massive payday, but his lengthy injury history clouds the market: He missed 26 games last regular season and all of the playoffs, and missed 51, 18 and 24 the previous three regular seasons.

Leaving his home state and coming all the way back to the Midwest to play with a young, unproven team seems like a strange turn — unless other teams were scared to offer him a $50-plus million deal annually over multiple years. George has been one of the league’s best two-way wings for a decade and an easy roster fit due to his off-ball scoring, playmaking and defense. Averaged at least 23 points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal for three straight seasons, and is a knockdown 3-point shooter at 38.1% for his career.

Verdict: (Laughing) There will be championship contenders bidding for his services.

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Squint and there’s a chance

LeBron James

LeBron James, right, has said it's a goal of his to play with his eldest son Bronny, left, in the NBA.

LeBron James, right, has said it’s a goal of his to play with his eldest son Bronny, left, in the NBA.

Why: If the Pistons take combo guard LeBron “Bronny” James Jr. in the 2024 NBA draft, this could become reality. James the elder has a player option worth $51.4 million for 2024-25 and will be 39 at the start of that season. He has previously said his goal is to play with his son, though he softened his stance in May, and Bronny will have a chance to be a top half of the first round selection depending on how he plays as a freshman at USC this coming season. The Pistons will likely be picking in the top 10; Bronny, a four-star recruit at 6 feet 3, is “arguably the best perimeter defender in his class while making strides with his shooting and playmaking,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote in February.

The Lakers have put together a solid offseason in the hopes of building on a Western Conference finals appearance so it remains to be seen how James views the landscape next summer after Year 21. James has had plenty of big moments against the Pistons throughout his career and is of course quite familiar with the Midwest as “just a kid from Akron.” He could help with his playmaking (6.8 assists last season) and scoring craft (28.9 points per game) and his decades of experience could only help Cunningham, Ivey and co. It would be interesting to see James transition even further to an off-ball role and whether playing fewer minutes allows him to stay efficient even as the league’s oldest player. But his presence could also be overbearing for top draft picks trying to make their own way.

Verdict: The circle of life coming to Detroit? Crazier things have happened.

De’Anthony Melton

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges looks to drive past Philadelphia 76ers guard De'Anthony Melton during Game 3 of the first round in the NBA playoffs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 20, 2023.

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges looks to drive past Philadelphia 76ers guard De’Anthony Melton during Game 3 of the first round in the NBA playoffs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., April 20, 2023.

Why: The shortest man on this list, but a star in his role who fits the “3-and-D” mold and won’t cost as much as most mentioned here. Melton is a shooting guard at 6-3 but can defend up a position with nearly a 6-9 wingspan and will be in his age-26 season in 2024-25. Has morphed into a catch-and-shoot weapon, making 38.9% of his 3s the past three seasons on five attempts per game. He’s a disruptive defender, swiping 1.6 steals last season and his three deflections per game ranked 10th.

With the 76ers apparently hogging cap space for 2024, his contract has not been extended in the final season of a four-year, $34.6 million deal signed with Memphis. Would come off the bench in Detroit as the roster is currently constructed, which might hurt its chances of corralling him.

Verdict: Keep an eye open.

Tobias Harris

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris reacts after making a 3-point basket against the Boston Celtics during Game 4 of the NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center, May 7, 2023.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris reacts after making a 3-point basket against the Boston Celtics during Game 4 of the NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center, May 7, 2023.

Why: Another Sixer here. Harris is coming off a massive $180 million contract. He will be 32 before the 2024-25 season, so his best days will likely be behind him, but has familiarity with the Pistons after spending parts of three seasons in Detroit during the Stan Van Gundy era. The Pistons reportedly asked of his availability on the trade market before the 2023 draft, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. On-court fit might not be hand and glove, but he has adapted his game a bit to become more of an off-ball option offensively while handling tougher defensive assignments.

Good locker room guy, durable, good size (6-8, 226 pounds) and comes with a wealth of experience in the playoffs and playing alongside “star” players. Might be the best bet from this list to actually reach free agency and change teams.

Verdict: Could see it if Pistons strike out at the top of their wish list (see below).

Patrick Williams

Bulls forward Patrick Williams.

Bulls forward Patrick Williams.

Why: Another 2020 draftee and thus restricted free agent to be. If he has a breakout 2023-24 season, the Bulls will want him back and could match any outside offer. If he has another middling year as a complementary piece, why would the Pistons throw big money at him? The answer: We know Weaver loves to circle back to players he graded highly in previous drafts (see Wiseman, Bagley), and Williams reportedly had a giant predraft fan in Weaver three years ago. But Chicago took him fourth overall, three spots ahead of the waiting Pistons. Williams, 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, has progressed slowly since producing an exciting rookie year.

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A dislocated wrist limited him to 17 games in 2021-22 but he played in all 82 games last season and shot 41.5% on 3s last season on low volume (3.4 attempts per game). One of three players with at least 70 steals and 70 blocks last season and will be 23 leading into the 2024-25 season. Could be worth the gamble with a creative offer sheet daring the Bulls to match.

Verdict: Don’t bank on an extraction, but expect him to be a Pistons target.

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The main dish

Pascal Siakam

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.

Why: Not a seamless fit as a career 32.7% 3-point shooter (league average last season was 36.1%) who has two seasons where he shot average or above from deep and neither was recent (2018-19 and 2019-20). The Pistons would have to love what they see from their three young guards’ shooting projections to bring in yet another poor 3-point threat. Would bring size, playmaking and versatility defensively at 6-9, and would be a reasonable 30 years old in Year 1 of a new contract. Has led the NBA in minutes played per game for two consecutive seasons. Would have to be amenable to a lower usage rate after being the lead ball-handler for most of the past four seasons with the Raptors (plus the the upcoming season), and has averaged at least 21 points per game in each.

Perhaps a connection with old coach Dwane Casey, now a member of the Pistons front office, could persuade Siakam if there’s a tie to break for his services. Detroit is close to Toronto. But again, it would be malpractice for team president Masai Ujiri, one of the game’s most respected executives, to allow Siakam to reach free agency without an understanding of his return. He saw firsthand with VanVleet leaving this offseason; he won’t let that happen with Siakam, who is a better player.

Verdict: Very good player, but fit concerns would make this a questionable all-in addition.

O.G. Anunoby

Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby reaches for a loose ball against the Pistons, Nov. 14, 2022, at Little Caesars Arena.

Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby reaches for a loose ball against the Pistons, Nov. 14, 2022, at Little Caesars Arena.

Why: Anunoby has a player option for $20 million in 2024-25, which he will surely opt out of barring significant injury. He will be eligible for a max contract at 30% of the salary cap, which depending on next year’s cap jump could reach $192 million over four years for non-Toronto teams ($48 million per season). He is one of the league’s preeminent “3-and-D” players but getting close to that max number might be what it takes to lure him away from other pursuers. He led the NBA with 1.9 steals per game in 2022-23 and shot 38.7% on 5.5 attempts from 3-point range per game, his fourth consecutive season shooting above league average on 3s. He has prototypical size and strength to defend the league’s apex offensive wing players at 6-7 and 232 pounds, and his 7-2 wingspan helped him generate 3.6 deflections per game last season, second in the NBA.

He has injury concerns dating to college where he tore his ACL. He has missed at least 15 games each of the past three regular seasons, playing in 43 (2020-21), 48 (2021-22) and 67 games (2022-23). Yet he is perhaps the perfect fit for the Pistons among many other teams, and will be in his prime at 27 years old for the 2024-25 season. He will have a large market for his services if he were to reach free agency. He is also more likely to be dealt by the trade deadline — where he could command a lucrative package to help regenerate the Raptors if they are struggling again this winter — then leave via free agency. Toronto could also opt to offer him a new deal next summer, and will have the advantage of a fifth year and 8% yearly raises compared to four years and 5% raises from competitors.

Verdict: Perfect fit, but money being equal, why would he choose Pistons over glamour markets?

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons set for big cap space in 2024 summer. Who’s out there?

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