Luke Kennard

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Pistons kicked the can down the road – heedlessly

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

In their seminal set of transactions this offseason, the Pistons upgraded to a better, cheaper version of their previous shooting guard.

The bill – Marcus Morris already used as down payment – will come due next summer, when Avery Bradley becomes an unrestricted free agent. Will Detroit be better equipped to handle his free agency than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s this year?

That’s the bet the Pistons are making.

They had a breakthrough run to the 2016 playoffs, where they were the youngest team to qualify. But their ascension got sidetracked around Reggie Jackson‘s injury-plagued 2016-17 season. There’s a good case the point guard’s injuries contributed to his ineffectiveness, Andre Drummond‘s regression and the chemistry problems that plague losing teams.

The result: The Pistons had to face Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s restricted free agency with the luxury tax breathing down their neck and most of their players’ values in the gutter. Rather than spend its way out of the hole, Detroit kicked the can to next summer.

In the meantime, the Pistons got Bradley, who will earn about half of Caldwell-Pope’s salary this season. Bradley, two years older, is also better than Caldwell-Pope right now.

But the swap cost Detroit Morris, who was traded to the Celtics for Bradley. It also cost the Pistons Caldwell-Pope – though it didn’t necessarily have to.

They rescinded Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer after getting Bradley, clearing Caldwell-Pope to sign a one-year, $17,745,894 deal with the Lakers as an unrestricted free agent. But Detroit could have strengthened itself by keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted – even without actually trying to re-sign him.

If Caldwell-Pope accepted his $4,958,374 qualifying offer, the Pistons would have gotten another quality contributor at a bargain price for this season. They could have easily stayed under the tax with him earning so little. Would he have been somewhat redundant behind Bradley? Yes, but teams need backups, and Caldwell-Pope would have been a heck of a backup and trade chip. He would have held the right to veto trades, but any team dealing for him would’ve likely put him in a better position entering free agency. Barring a trade, Detroit would have entered next summer with both Bradley’s and Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights – doubling (or so) the odds of re-signing a quality shooting guard long-term.

If Caldwell-Pope signed an offer sheet elsewhere, it would have been required to be for at least two years (not including option years). So, that Lakers contract would not have been allowed. Whichever team signed Caldwell-Pope would’ve therefore likely been out of the running for another starting shooting guard next summer, easing the Pistons’ ability to re-sign Bradley.

As is, Detroit doesn’t have Caldwell-Pope this season, will have Bird Rights on only one starting-caliber shooting guard next offseason and will face a deeper pool of teams courting Bradley.

Rescinding Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer, clearing the way for his one-year, bet-on-himself contract with the Lakers was a huge favor to him. He didn’t have to lock into a multi-year deal in a market he found unfavorable. He’s earning more than triple what he would’ve on the qualifying offer while still getting a crack at unrestricted free agency next summer. There’s valuing in doing right by players who don’t quite fit the long-term plan.

I’m just not sure the Pistons are in a strong enough position to do a favor that big rather than exercising their collectively bargained rights. Graciously letting Caldwell-Pope walk just puts more pressure on everyone else.

Without Morris, the Pistons will need Stanley Johnson to step up this season. Tobias Harris can man one forward spot, but Johnson – the No. 8 pick in 2015 – is the ideal choice for the other. Johnson struggled his first two seasons, but he’s just 21, and it’s far too soon to close the book on him. Though I wouldn’t want to rely on him making a jump, Detroit has little choice.

The Pistons won’t be forced to lean on Stan Van Gundy’s other two first-round picks, power forward Henry Ellenson (No. 18 last year) and shooting Luke Kennard (No. 12 this year), quite as much. Detroit hedged with more experience – and expensive – veterans.

Langston Galloway might live up to his three-year, $21 million contract. But he’s just one forgettable season split between New Orleans and Sacramento away from the Knicks pulling his qualifying offer and the Pelicans signing him to just a two-year, $10,634,000 deal with a player option. It seems likely Detroit went well above market rate to sign the combo guard, a disturbing trend.

The Pistons got power forward Anthony Tolliver cheaper, for one year with the $3.29 million bi-annual exception. But that also means they can’t use the bi-annual exception again next year. Using the bi-annual exception this summer is not necessarily flawed. The Pistons knew it’d be useful now, and there’s no guarantee it would be next offseason. But preserving resources for the future seems to barely be a consideration for this franchise.

At least they convinced Aron Baynes to decline his $6.5 million player option, granting them more maneuverability. He was left with the $4,328,000 room exception in Boston.

Winning creates flexibility, as players on winning teams hold more value. Perhaps, Jackson getting healthy creates a ripple effect in Detroit that – with these new additions bolstering the roster – sparks a revival.

But the Pistons are poised to face the same luxury-tax issues they had with paying Caldwell-Pope this summer with paying Bradley next summer. Except Bradley will start free agency unrestricted, meaning Detroit will have even less control of the situation.

The Pistons just hope they win enough this year to confront that issue from a position of greater strength.

Offseason grade: C-

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Report: Pistons offered Kentavious Caldwell-Pope five-year, $80 million contract

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Entering the offseason, the Pistons were reportedly prepared to match a max offer sheet for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Instead, they renounced him and let him hit unrestricted free agency.

Obviously, Detroit drafting Luke Kennard, signing Langston Galloway then – most importantly – trading for Avery Bradley influenced the reversal on Caldwell-Pope. Whether because of Caldwell-Pope’s demands or their fondness for the players they acquired or both, the Pistons are at least set now at shooting guard.

But Caldwell-Pope is suddenly the best unrestricted free agent available late in the process, and he has no clear future. What’s his market like?

The Pistons’ offer at least informs our understanding.

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Caldwell-Pope’s max is $106,524,975 over four years. That’s obviously quite a gap.

He’s not worth the max based on previous production, but Caldwell-Pope is very good – a high-end perimeter defender, good 3-point shooter and excellent transition threat – and just 24. Whomever signs him will get an immediate contributor who can get better.

But there are limited apparent suitors with him becoming unrestricted so late in the process. One possibility, the Nets, used a bunch of cap space to extract draft picks in the DeMarre Carroll salary dump even after knowing Caldwell-Pope had been renounced. Could the Hawks sign him? Would he take a one-year deal with the Lakers? Will another team clear cap space to get in the running?

I believe Caldwell-Pope would have gotten a better offer than Detroit’s if he were unrestricted earlier in free agency. But by now, so many teams have used their cap space. It’s much trickier for him at this point.

Report: Pistons renouncing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who becomes unrestricted free agent

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The Pistons’ trade for Avery Bradley signaled Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s end in Detroit.

The biggest question was how it would happen.

It seems the Pistons are making it easy for him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Caldwell-Pope becomes the best unrestricted free agent on the market. There are probably some teams that regret signing other players before he became so available. The Nets will have competition for him, and a six-day wait on the Wizards matching Otto Porter could hurt Brooklyn’s chances.

Just 24, Caldwell-Pope should provide plenty of production throughout his next contract. He’s a 3-and-D shooting guard who’s excellent in transition. He can defend point guards, important in a league with so many talented ones. Caldwell-Pope is lacking off the bounce and as a distributor, but smart teams will work around his limitations and extract value from his strengths.

This is a major risk for the Pistons, who are choosing 26-year-old Bradley one year from unrestricted free agency over locking up 24-year-old Caldwell-Pope long-term. Bradley is better and cheaper (important considering luxury-tax concerns) than Caldwell-Pope right now, but Bradley could also walk – or become paid even more than Caldwell-Pope – in just a year.

First-round pick Luke Kennard hedges Detroit’s bet long-term, and newly signed Langston Galloway adds depth as a combo guard. Stanley Johnson can also play some shooting guard, though he’s better at forward.

But the Pistons just kicked their problems down the road another year, when another financial crunch looms. Maybe those issues will be easier for Detroit to handle if its players rehab their trade values next season. Everyone’s had bottomed out after last year’s disappointment. And again: Bradley improves the Pistons this season.

Still, other teams will salivate at an unexpected chance to add Caldwell-Pope.

Report: Pistons might rescind qualifying offer to restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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The Pistons were already facing a hard cap as they dealt with restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Then they traded for Avery Bradley, who reduces Detroit’s room beneath the hard cap by $3,808,989 and becomes the third player – with Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway – added at Caldwell-Pope’s position this summer.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

This is a stark departure from Detroit’s reported plan entering the offseason to match any offer sheet Caldwell-Pope signs. But, by this point, this is far more expected.

Bradley is better and cheaper than Caldwell-Pope right now. But there’s major risk in choosing a 26-year-old one year from unrestricted free agency rather than locking up a 24-year-old long-term.

By rule, it’s unlikely the Pistons match an offer sheet for Caldwell-Pope now. They’re only about $7 million below the hard cap, and any offer sheet would start far higher than that.

But keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted would at least allow the Pistons the possibility of clearing cap space and matching. Though that’d be unlikely with Bradley already in tow, Detroit could make the judgment when presented with Caldwell-Pope’s offer-sheet terms.

Keeping Caldwell-Pope restricted also allows for the remote possibility he find no offers he likes this summer and takes the $4,958,374 qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’d give the Pistons another helpful contributor at a discount rate for next season, and they’d still fall below the tax. Even if he’s superfluous with Bradley and would possess the right to block trades, Caldwell-Pope would be too valuable to turn down at that price.

Still, that’s all unlikely. Caldwell-Pope will probably play for another team next season. Rescinding his qualifying offer would be a favor to him, making his exit go more smoothly.

If the Pistons are certain they won’t keep him – and they’re operating as if they are – they might just grant that accommodation.