Detroit Pistons will be 800-pound gorilla of NBA free agency next year

If you thought the Detroit Pistons had a lot of salary cap space to maneuver this summer, wait until you see what the pile of cash they can draw on next off-season.

Loading up the team’s salary structure with big contracts for mediocre players was kind of the modus operandi of the Pistons for much of the 2010s. We can list all the names (cough, Josh Smith), but it is too darn depressing.

Credit Ed Stefanski, who took over when Stan Van Gundy was given the boot, to begin the grueling job of getting rid of all the bad contracts, Troy Weaver continued the work when he took over as general manager in July, 2020.

How much have things changed? The highest paid player, entering this season, for Detroit is: Kelly Olynyk at $12.8 million. That would be the fifth-highest salary on the Warriors, sixth with the Clippers (Luke Kennard is paid more!)

With the trade of Jerami Grant, the Pistons core are all still on its rookie contracts (sorry, do not count Marvin Bagley III as part of the core just yet). Weaver also has almost all the veterans on contracts that expire after the 2022-23 season.

If there are a lot of players on rookie deals and a bunch of vets on expiring contracts, how much salary cap space will the Pistons have at the end of the 2022-23 season? A lot!

We are talking between Bruce Wayne and Scrooge McDuck money (yes, Big Bang Theory reference).

Assuming Detroit does not pick up any player options of veterans (Alec Burks, Olynyk, Nerlens Noel, Hamidou Diallo etc.), the Pistons on the books for the 2023-2024 season will have no one making more than $8 million except Cade Cunningham and Bagley III.

What would Detroit Pistons do with $62.9 million in cap space?

Whatever they want.

Detroit would have the space to offer two max contracts in what is thought to be a strong free agent class.

The Pistons could right a wrong and try to sign Khris Middleton, who they traded as a rookie. Michigan grad Caris Levert would certainly give a boost to the bench.

Whatever weaknesses the Pistons have that gets exposed during this upcoming season, Weaver would have the money to fix immediately.

Detroit can also repeat what it did this season with the New York Knicks, allow teams to use its cap space in return for players and draft picks.

And just because a player does not have their option picked up, does not mean they will not return to the Pistons. Weaver the past two seasons has released players (Cory Joseph, Rodney McGruder as examples) but re-signed them for a lower figure later on.

On a shooting-starved team like Detroit, Burks could be brought back at a lower figure. Coach Dwane Casey prizes defense, so the same could happen with Hamidou Diallo, if he finds the market not to his liking.

If the Pistons have a decent record this season, with the big dollar figures they can throw at players, Detroit truly could be the 800-pound gorilla of the 2023 off-season.

It is certainly a turnaround from the situation the Pistons found themselves only 4-5 years ago, when they were desperately trying to get rid of big money contracts.

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