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Rockets’ Marquese Chriss, 76ers’ Furkan Korkmaz, Nuggets’ Tyler Lydon, Thunder’s Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also have options declined

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The Rockets tried to sell that their trade with the Suns wasn’t just about financial relief, that they truly believe Marquese Chriss would thrive in their system.

But forced to put their money where their mouth is, the Rockets buckled.

Houston declined Chriss’ $4,078,236 team option for next season.

That was the right call. Chriss is too far from being a productive NBA player to guarantee him that much. He’s just 21 and still possesses the raw tools that got him drafted No. 8 just two years ago, but NBA play is too complex for him right now. This is just more evidence the Rockets’ offseason was primarily driven by limiting costs.

We already knew of four other declined rookie-scale team options – Suns’ Dragan Bender, Timberwolves’ Justin Patton, Pistons’ Henry Ellenson and Raptors’ Malachi Richardson. (How rookie-scale contracts work.) But in addition to Chriss, three other players had their declined options revealed shortly before last night’s deadline. Those three with option salaries:

76ers’ Furkan Korkmaz ($2,033,160)

The 76ers badly want another star, and next summer might be their last good chance to sign one in free agency. It’ll be the last offseason Ben Simmons is still on his relatively cheap rookie-scale contract before he joins Joel Embiid on a max deal. So, I can see why Philadelphia maximized its flexibility by declining Korkmaz’s option.

But I would have exercised it. Korkmaz is athletic and skilled, and though he must get stronger, that isn’t disqualifying for a 21-year-old. Though Korkmaz was drafted No. 26 in 2016, this is actually his third-year option, because he waited a year to sign. So, exercising this option would have come with the chance to keep Korkmaz yet another year at a potentially cheap price if he develops.

The clearer failure probably was not trading Korkmaz to a team that would have exercised his option. Maybe that’s what happens when you go through the offseason without a general manager.

Now, it’ll be tougher to find suitors, because any team that trades for him and ends the season with him will be limited to paying him a starting salary of $2,033,160 in free agency. If he breaks out, that wouldn’t be enough.

Nuggets’ Tyler Lydon ($2,190,720)

The Nuggets have gotten plenty of grief for trading down from the No. 13 pick – which the Jazz used on rising star Donovan Mitchell – in last year’s draft.

This won’t help.

In the deal with Utah, Denver received Trey Lyles (nice) and No. 24 pick Tyler Lydon (not so nice). Lydon just hasn’t looked on track to stick in the NBA, in part due to injury. He was good enough in the NBA’s minor league that I probably would have exercised this third-year option, but the Nuggets could face a luxury-tax crunch next season. It’s a close call.

That said, the Nuggets did this knowing this would make their already-panned draft-day trade look even worse. That says something.

Thunder’s Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot ($2,529,684)

The Thunder love to take fliers on athletic wings – including Luwawu-Cabarrot, who was acquired from the 76ers in the Carmelo AnthonyDennis Schroder trade. But Luwawu-Cabarrot hasn’t developed even a niche, so declining his fourth-year option makes sense. Especially considering Oklahoma City faces repeater-rate tax concerns for next season.

Report: Pistons’ Henry Ellenson to play for USA Basketball in World Cup qualifying

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Most of the NBA’s biggest names are candidates for Team USA in the 2019 World Cup.

But the Americans first must qualify.

FIBA, in its infinite wisdom, scheduled qualifying windows that largely overlap with the NBA season or come close to it. So, USA Basketball has sent teams of mostly minor-leaguers for qualifiers in November, February and June/July. David Stockton played earlier this summer while still under contract with the Jazz, but it was always fait accompli they’d waive him and his unguaranteed deal. Alex Caruso also played earlier this summer while on a two-way with the Lakers.

It has gone well enough. The U.S. is 5-1, though it got upset by Mexico.

But the Americans – who host Uruguay Sept. 14 in Las Vegas then play Panama on Sept. 17 – will bolster their roster for the next qualifying window. They’re adding a bona fide NBA player with a guaranteed salary… Pistons big Henry Ellenson.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Despite his superior contract status, Ellenson isn’t really a gamechanger. Some of the minor-leaguers who’ve already played for Jeff Van Gundy in these qualifiers are probably better than the 21-year-old Ellenson.

Besides, the U.S. should beat Uruguay and Panama, anyway (though I would have said the same about Mexico).

But I am curious whether this indicates USA Basketball will add other NBA players to the roster for next month. There are a few days between the Panama game and NBA training camps opening.

Or maybe Ellenson is just the rare exact right level of NBA player – barely in the league, in major need of development – to make sense for this event.

Report: Jon Leuer expected to return to Pistons by start of season

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Pistons big Jon Leuer underwent meniscus surgery, leaving plenty of doubt about his availability for next season.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

After losing Anthony Tolliver in free agency (to the Timberwolves), Detroit needs Leuer as a stretch big off the bench. Unless Henry Ellenson is ready for rotation minutes, which…

If Leuer isn’t quite ready for the start of the season, Stanley Johnson could play small-ball four, but that weakens wing depth.

The Pistons’ best hope is Leuer getting healthy on schedule.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

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-