July 01, 2009
I like and respect the games of Ben Gordon(notes) and Charlie Villanueva(notes). I think both players – while shot-happy, mercurial, and crummy on defense – have been unfairly maligned throughout their careers.
What I just can't imagine, knowing throughout 2008-09 that the Pistons would have heaps of salary-cap space to work with this summer, that this is how fans of the team assumed things would work out.
Carlos Boozer's(notes) staying in Utah, I understand that option is off the table. By midseason, last year, it became more and more likely that Boozer wouldn't want to walk away from guaranteed money in 2009-10. Not in this climate, not with his 2008-09 play. And beyond that, the free-agent pickings are somewhat slim.
But Gordon and CV? This soon? Woj is reporting that both will be in Detroit today, and likely to sign with the Pistons. And that their new contracts will take up most of Detroit's $20 million in cap space.
So, that's your team. Those are your Pistons. That's the payoff of the rebuilding process. Yikes.
We know why Villanueva is available. The Bucks didn't want to extend a qualifying offer to their once-restricted free-agent forward, and for good reason. The team is trying to figure its future out, and adding new salary for a very good-but-not-great player while confusion reigns is never a good idea. Even if all of CV's offers fell by the wayside and he had to sign for the QO, nah. Just not worth it, even if his play and contributions are worth much more than the QO.
Gordon? The Bulls prepared to do this for years. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf is easily the cheapest in the NBA, taking in quite a bit of profit while refusing to pay the luxury tax, or retain players that he's not entirely comfortable with.
You've been able to see the writing on the wall for years with this move. It's why the team makes all sorts of moves to approach the tax (like spending guaranteed money on two draft picks who aren't even likely to be in next year's rotation) just to leave itself the excuse to not pay Gordon, a huge scoring threat for a team that sometimes struggles to top 80 points in a game.
Chicago will toss out John Salmons'(notes) name, of course, because most of their fans won't remember that Salmons will turn 30 later this year, and will be about to enter the down side of his career. The Bulls always leave you a carrot, always refusing to smartly spend money in the proper areas while distracting you with the luck of the Derrick Rose(notes) lottery selection, or a seven game series loss to a team missing its best player.
And Detroit? I just thought they could do better. I understand that you have to wrap up talent and assets (because talent is an asset) early in the free-agent game, before someone comes along with a newer, bluer, offer. And I understand that, supposedly, you don't want to rake the players who you're trusting to turn your team around over the coals, letting them twist for too long while you explore other options.
But ... no.
Explore other options. Almost $20 million in cap space means you can trade for great players, give up nothing but draft picks or also-rans, and absorb the salary hit under the cap. It means you have flexibility. It means you can do better than Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Again, I like both players, and am sorry to come across like I'm denigrating them, but you have to look around longer.
And if you do explore, and there's nothing to find? Hurt feelings have a tendency to float away once you hand nearly $20 million over to two players. By next season, they'll forget that you agreed to terms on Aug. 19, instead of July 1.
For now, though, this is it for the Pistons. They'll try to trade Rip Hamilton, but the only team that would take on an above-average player (at this stage, this is what Hamilton is) with a superstar contract would be a team making a massive mistake. And do you want a team that makes massive mistakes' players?
Rodney Stuckey(notes), Gordon, Hamilton, CV, Tayshaun Prince(notes), Jason Maxiell(notes), Aaron Afflalo. Maybe Austin Daye(notes). That's a rotation worth singing about? The Pistons figure to have a small amount of cap space next summer, even if Hamilton stays on board and with the new contracts, but not nearly enough to try and seduce Chris Bosh(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes), or LeBron James(notes).
The only hope is that the team can finagle a deal with Bosh using its remaining cap space. But that would also mean giving up an asset, and most indications are that Bosh wants to go where James goes (or, likely, stays) anyway.
It seems like a fun team. Gordon and CV are certainly far cheerier than Allen Iverson(notes) and Rasheed Wallace(notes). I'm just not sure it's a knockout team. And I'm not sure that rotation is worth spending nearly $60 million on, which is what the Pistons would be doing next year if Ben and Charlie come on board.