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As Detroit entered the frenzy that is free-agency week with roughly $30 million in cap space, Detroit Pistons fans around the world fell asleep thinking about how the team could spend its dough.
Cam Johnson? Jeremy Grant? Harrison Barnes? A barter with a disgruntled star?
You are dozing off to think of one of these names, results. It is only natural.
Well, just hours before free agency was set to begin, the Pistons struck. But not in the way you dreamed or prayed for. Friday afternoon, The Nets traded sharpshooter Joe Harris and his expiring $20 million contract, as well as two future second-round picks, to the Pistons, league sources say Athletics. Detroit will have to send either $110,000 in cash or a top-55 protected future second-round pick, according to league rules. No players will be sent from Detroit to Brooklyn, team sources say.
Aside from Harris, a career 43.7 percent 3-point shooter who provided a service the Pistons needed more of, the addition of the 31-year-old forward cuts into the $30 million in cap space Detroit had use when free agency officially opens. Barring other trades, the Pistons are looking at close to $10 million in cap space to play the rest of the way.
For most of you, I’m sure adding Harris, who played just 14 games two seasons ago due to a bad ankle injury and sat out last season on the mend, is the ultimate buzz kill, especially because it opens up for more money for the Nets to keep Johnson, which many Pistons fans were clamoring for. Johnson is expected to sign a deal this summer that will pay him anywhere from $90 million to $100 million total. Johnson, 27, is talented. He is the prototypical 3-and-D wing. However, Detroit clearly had no interest in committing to an oft-injured player who, to be fair, is only a role player and regularly creeps up to 60 games played per game. season.
Some of you will be furious. Some of you may boycott. Understandable.
But if you can calm down for a second and really care about looking beyond the surface, this is a move taken by an organization more focused on the bigger picture than winning the news conference. The Pistons of the last decade would have overpaid and committed several years to Johnson, who again, at the end of the day, is just a role player. The stamps of the last decade are why the current regime needs to be extra careful now.
Detroit has ambitions to turn a corner next season. It’s no secret. The Pistons want to be in the hunt for the Play-In Tournament, and yes, Johnson could have helped make that possible. But with that said, Detroit realizes it’s not in a position to give that type of money to a role player. It doesn’t even have stars yet. Pistons hope Cade Cunningham becomes a star. They hope Jaden Ivey becomes a star. They hope that Jalen Duren or Ausar Thompson can be. They hope as you hope. They believe as you believe. But that hasn’t happened yet. If the Pistons were to surprise some people next season, it was always going to be because one or two of the names above started their propensity for stardom. Not because Johnson was here.
By selecting Harris over Johnson, or Grant or Barnes, Detroit gets the shooting it needs. It gets more wing depth. It also gets about $20 million in cap space for the next free-agency period, when the pool of players is deeper and far more interesting. The Pistons retain the flexibility to be a player when a star becomes available. Detroit can easily hit at least $60 million in cap space next season. Money talks, no matter who you are.
Then there’s the other caveat as it relates to why the Pistons chose Harris over Johnson: Monty Williams. Detroit’s new coach used to be Johnson’s old coach in Phoenix. If anyone was privy to information about Johnson’s health going forward, and if committing long-term money would be practical, Williams would know. Yes, Harris has a recent injury problem, but he was still productive last season and only has one year left on his deal. Johnson has only played more than 65 games in a season once in his four years.
Trading for Harris does not win the press conference in Detroit. Nobody says that. Harris is a fine role player who provides exactly what the Pistons need. There is no need to say that he is more than that. On the surface, Harris is not Johnson. But the gap might not be that big when you consider that to get Johnson, Detroit would have had to make a bigger deal and fingers crossed that the injury luck was finally in the Pistons’ favor. The Pistons can still get to where they want to go with Harris on the roster. Again, it all depends on Cunningham, Ivey, Duren and others.
Detroit’s front office made this move with the bigger picture in mind. That’s what a rebuilding team is supposed to do. Otherwise, you’ll end up like the Pistons of the 2010s.
(Top photo by Joe Harris: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)