The hiring of Maurice Cheeks as the new head coach of the Detroit Pistons marks a new era for the franchise by way of personnel change alone; it does not guarantee a culture change at Six Championship Drive. As many fans may know, Pistons' owner Tom Gores is not one to shy away from boasting his commitment to building a winner in Detroit, or his desire for his team to be "impactful" in the league. To many fans, the hiring of Cheeks will not stand as an example of Gores commitment to winning (if anyone thinks Cheeks is the second-coming of Chuck Daly or Larry Brown call the white coats). There are a few things the Pistons can do to help their fan base believe that change is happening, and that Cheeks' 3-year contract is not a "hire to fire" situation as the past two coaches seemingly were.
The Pistons have money to spend on free agency this offseason, but a true culture change will only happen with an “addition by subtraction” philosophy around two players. The question is whether or not Gores is willing to spend to send someone away.
Trade Rodney Stuckey
There have been rumors that the Pistons are looking to move Rodney Stuckey before the June 27th NBA Draft. Stuckey becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season, meaning any team trading for the combo-guard would pay him $8.5 million for next season before seeing his contract come off their books in time for the 2014 free agent offseason. As some may already know, next year's free agent class is much stronger with LeBron James expected to exercise his early termination option from the Miami Heat and become an unrestricted free agent.
The Pistons aren't expected to land any big name free agents this offseason, but with nearly $25 million in cap space to fill and the team needing players, an ideal Stuckey trade would bring-in one or two players with two or three years on their contracts that the Pistons could use in a team-oriented rebuild. There won't be any superstars coming to the motor city, so bringing in players via trade could be the best chance the Pistons have at getting new talent through the door.
Buy-out Rodney Stuckey
If the Pistons simply want to get rid of Stuckey, the team can buyout his contract for $4 million. While the Pistons need players, Stuckey's "old culture" impact in the locker room might not be the best ingredient if Cheeks is trying to bring a new attitude to a more youthful and impressionable locker room. Stuckey has tangled with the past two coaches, sitting out of games under both John Kuester and Lawrence Frank for being a distraction (putting it lightly) in the locker room, on the bench and in practice.
If the Pistons truly want to re-identify themselves, then they need to separate the locker room from the "old culture." Moving Tayshaun Prince to Memphis—although Prince was not the disruptive player Stuckey can be –was the final departure from the Eastern Conference Finals years. If the team was willing to part ways with the lone holdover from the 2004 NBA Championship, then severing loyalties with Stuckey is a "must" moving forward.
Amnesty Charlie Villanueva
Following the 2012-13 season, as expected, Charlie Villanueva picked up his $8.5 million fifth-year player option with the Pistons. It goes without being said that Villanueva isn't worth the $8.5 million cap hit he places on the Pistons' books, but the call to amnesty Villanueva needs to happen this off season. As the amnesty clause can only be used on players under contract before December 2011, the only other player on the Pistons roster eligible for amnesty is Greg Monroe. Because amnestying Monroe in place of Villanueva while at the same time improving the team doesn't make sense, if the amnesty is going to be used it needs to be used on Villanueva.
The question that goes along with the use of the amnesty clause is whether it will be done to merely clear up more cap space for non-specific free agent spending, or if the amnesty will come with a plan in mind. The amnesty could mark the beginning of a multi-year contract the Pistons take on via trade, while clearing the necessary roster spot and extra cap space by amnestying Villanueva. A situation like that would keep all of the team’s nearly $25 million in free agent spending available.
Whatever the reason, if the Pistons don't use the amnesty on Villanueva have to pay the power forward $8.5 million this upcoming season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2013-14. Those hoping that the Pistons can find a trade partner for Villanueva should check Villanueva's stats compared to his salary and rethink the team's options. The best chance at starting fresh without Villanueva in the locker room is through the amnesty clause.
The takeaway here is that Gores' needs to show his commitment to winning and being "impactful" by spending his money wisely. That not only means spending to bring players in, but possibly spending to show some players the door (namely Stuckey and Villanueva). The Pistons have found their man to take over the coaching seat in Maurice Cheeks. The question is whether or not ownership is willing to make the necessary "addition by subtraction" moves to give Cheeks a chance. With a young returning roster, and three more college-aged players being added to the roster on draft night, getting rid of the "old culture" could be one of the best things the organization can do if they want Cheeks' message to make an impression.
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