It’s been three months since the Detroit Pistons played their home finale, when team owner Tom Gores, silent for a large part of the season, declared to the NBA world that he was “ready to spend” in the offseason. For many hearing the owner’s bold talk, “ready to spend” meant a number of possibilities. With the Pistons staring more than $20 million in cap space square in the eye, “ready to spend” meant improving the roster through a big contract player in either free agency or via trade. So far, in the young moments of this free agent offseason, the Pistons have offered a four-year contract to Josh Smith for an undisclosed amount, have talked with Andre Iguodala, Tyreke Evans, O.J. Mayo and Brandan Wright, and have been linked to a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets that would send Jose Calderon (the “sign”) to the Rockets in return for point guard Jeremy Lin (the “trade”). Each of those potential moves describes an owner “ready to spend,” but it appears as if his commitment to the check book doesn’t go beyond free agency or trade. A shame, as the Pistons have watched as opportunities to “spend” on addition-by-subtraction roster improvements have gone right out the door.
This past weekend the Pistons watched the buyout deadline come and go. The Pistons had the opportunity to buyout Rodney Stuckey; a player who has been an inconsistent scorer, suspect defender and at times derisive locker room presence under the past two Pistons head coaches. A new coach in Maurice Cheeks is supposed to mean a new beginning for the Pistons; a “new attitude” is trying to be put into the locker room along with a new philosophy for the future. The perfect time to be “ready to spend” $4 million to send Stuckey to the waiver wire, save $4.5million, and move forward with the young core and new free agent acquisitions. Gores was apparently not “ready to spend” on a buyout, and now the threat of the same, poor locker room atmosphere still looms despite Cheeks wanting to bring in a fresh environment for the younger and new players.
Since the new collective bargaining agreement was put into place following the last NBA players’ strike, and the Pistons (like every team) were awarded a one-time amnesty clause to erase any bad contract signed before the new CBA was put into place from counting against the cap, fans have been wondering whether or not the Pistons would decide to rid themselves of Charlie Villanueva’s albatrossesque contract and open a roster spot for a more useful player. However, while the amnesty clause erases a contract from the cap, a team owner still has to pay the player his contract to “go away” and then has to replace the equivalent amount of amnestied money with another player or multiple players depending on the roster space. To amnesty Villanueva Gores would have to pay him $8.5 million (his contract this year). Being “ready to spend” on a Villanueva amnesty would help with free agency tremendously, as offering someone like Josh Smith the $15-16 million per year he’s likely been offered from the Pistons doesn’t look as bad if you now have more wiggle room via the $8.5 amnesty cap space to fill out the roster further with strong role players.
Unfortunately, like the Stuckey buyout, Gores did not mean for his “ready to spend” comments to be applicable to anything outside of free agency or trade. The Pistons, according to Detroit Free Press beat writer Vince Ellis, have not explored the option of amnestying Villanueva and the general consensus is that they won’t. If they couldn’t bring themselves to spend $4 million to buyout Stuckey, they’re certainly not going to spend $8.5 million to send Villanueva away. This is the final year of Villanueva’s contract as he becomes an unrestricted free agent next season. The only other player eligible to be amnestied under the rule is Greg Monroe, and as that won’t happened and shouldn’t happen, it looks like the amnesty will expire without being used.
Recently, Gores talked with Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press in a Q&A session with the beat writer. During the interview, Gores seemed to back-off his bold “ready to spend” strategy a bit:
Everybody wants to win, but you don’t want to win at all costs. Even this off-season for example, obviously we want to make moves, we want to do our thing, but we don’t want to do anything to affect the long-term future of the franchise. I think it’s very tricky. We want to develop our young people and believe in them. I think we got the pieces to win and this year we got some room with our cap space and so on to bring in the right pieces. It’s not that easy to balance and really it’s about being the best you can be as a team. As much as we want to win, I think the most important thing is that we’re playing to our maximum.
Gores’ words are a far cry from the owner who said he expected to be in the playoffs last season, one of the reasons Lawrence Frank lost his job. A far cry from what was originally interpreted when he made his “ready to spend” comments. What is beginning to take form with Gores is an owner who is confused about what to do, an owner without a lot of “feel” for owning an NBA team, and an owner who can be swayed, maybe easier than more experienced owners, by his front office. Going from expecting playoffs in 2012-13 and declaring a “ready to spend” win-now mantra, to talking about developing young players and valuing “playing to our maximum” over winning doesn’t happen without influence. Just speculation, but Gores has likely been influenced by Joe Dumars and George David to see the bigger picture. Which is fine, as the bigger down-the-road picture is more realistic. But when speculating about a GM influencing an owner to be more patient and allow for roster development, it’s hard to not be a tad bit cynical when your GM is in the final year of his contract as Dumars currently is.
As NBA teams aren’t allowed to physically “sign” free agents until July 10th, expect the Pistons to show up in the rumor mill many times in the next nine days. Over that time, fans may get a clearer picture of what “ready to spend” exactly means. Follow @Pistons_101 on Twiter for the updates as they come.
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