If we learned anything about Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bowers’ collective decision to acquire Reggie Jackson and Tayshaun Prince in a pair of surprise moves just moments before last season’s trade deadline, it’s that one never quite knows how things are really going to shake out until the deadline has officially come and gone.
But things are a little different this time around.
While the Pistons find themselves in the midst of an Eastern Conference playoff race, the trade market is atypically thin, in large part due to a staggering jump in salary cap set to hit the league this summer, when teams are expected to see a jump from $66 million to upwards of $90 million in available expenditure.
What it means: teams aren’t as concerned as they once were with acquiring players in the final year of their current contract, which happens to account for a significant portion of the current market.
“What a lot of people are willing to deal is their guys who are on the last year of their contract, which used to be something people really liked,” Van Gundy said. “But now with all 30 teams having money, I’ve already said, we’re not going to give up an asset to take a guy we could lose in the summer.”
The Pistons parted ways with a bevy of players, including D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler, as a part of their 2015 deadline acquisition of then-free-agent-to-be Reggie Jackson. By claiming Jackson mid-season, the Pistons were then able to out-bid the handful of teams looking to sign Jackson to a new contract in the summer (he remained with Detroit after inking a five-year, $80 million deal).
Such a process won’t be quite as simple this time around, with most NBA teams gaining the benefit of over $20 million in additional cap space once the league’s new TV deal kicks in.
“Normally when you do that (acquire an impending free agent), even though you know you might be in a battle — there may be six or seven teams with money — now there’s 30,” Van Gundy said. “So basically if you’re going to make that trade, I don’t care who it’s for, you better be ready to pay the max because the salaries are going to go through the roof.”
Recent rumors have suggested the Pistons may be interested in pursuing an upgrade at the power forward position. New Orleans Pelicans sharp-shooter Ryan Anderson and Atlanta Hawks three-time All-Star Al Horford have both seen their name bandied about of late as possibilities for the Pistons camp. However, each are set to become unrestricted free agents following the season, cooling any talk regarding the impending deadline.
“Everybody’s got money so I’m not willing to yield as asset right now,” Van Gundy said. “Even for a guy I really like, if he’s unrestricted, we could lose him in the summer for nothing.”
The Pistons, led by a young nucleus that includes Jackson, All-Star center Andre Drummond, and 2015 lottery pick Stanley Johnson, currently stand at 26-23, good enough for sixth place in the conference and just six wins shy of their win total from all of last season.
For now, Van Gundy will keep his ear to the ground, but any upgrades may have to wait until summer.
“We’ve said all along, we want to win now but we don’t want to sacrifice the future.”