Why the Pistons Are Finally in a Great Position to Rebuild
The Pistons have been a struggling organization for over a decade. The last time Detroit saw success in the playoffs was in 2008, when they eventually lost in a six-game series to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next year they were swept by LeBron James and Company in the first round. They haven’t won a single playoff game since that ‘08 Eastern Conference Finals series against the Celtics.
Since then, it’s been more than a handful of horrible contracts that has kept this team deep in the water. In 2009, the Pistons had $100 million in cap space. They signed Ben Gordon to a five-year, $55 million deal and Charlie Villaneuva to a five-year, $35.7 million dollar deal. These deals were horrible not only because no other team would’ve signed those players to those deals, but because the Pistons already had given an aging Rip Hamilton a three-year extension worth $34 million.
Three years later, the Pistons traded Gordon and a 2013 protected first-round draft pick to Charlotte to rid themselves of the awful contract. In return, they acquired Corey Maggette who did next to nothing while with Detroit.
The Ben Gordon trade allowed the Pistons to make an even worse move, and that was the signing of Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million dollar contract in ‘13. Do I even need to mention that it took all the way to this year’s season to pay him off? Smith hasn’t played for the Pistons since 2014, yet Detroit paid him $5.3 million per year until now. Stan Van Gundy took over operations in ‘14 and made the decision to cut Smith in order to develop young players. The Josh Smith signing was possibly Joe Dumars’ worst decision, and thankfully, his last.
Stan Van Gundy also had his share of bad choices. In 2015, Reggie Jackson was signed to a five-year $80 million deal. While Jackson showed flashes of being a top 15 NBA point guard, those flashes were erased by injury after injury. Andre Drummond was signed to a whopping five-year $127.2 million deal in 2016. The Jackson and Drummond era was not what Van Gundy thought it was going to be, and it resulted in him being fired.
Today, however, the Pistons have a breath of fresh air. It’s been a long time since there was this much cap space to work with. Only the Atlanta Hawks with a projected $51 million available and the New York Knicks with a projected $46 million available will have more cap space, as the Pistons will most likely have $32 million available. This is with Blake Griffin on contract for at least one more season, and with an already developing Christian Wood and Sekou Doumbouya. Let’s hope that the Pistons have learned their lessons over the past decade and don’t screw this opportunity up with another horrendous contract or free-agent signing.