If the Pistons’ current roster is any indication, second year head coach Stan Van Gundy loves position battles. With 18 players under contract and another possibly joining the fold soon — they’re rumored to be a frontrunner for 6-foot-10 center Eric Moreland — the Pistons are closing in on Spring Training split squad numbers. Here’s where the extensive roster figure stands at the very moment (get that scrolling finger ready):
|Name (*Denotes New Acquisition)||Age||2015-16 Salary|
|Darrun Hilliard II*||22||$600,000|
Of all 18 players listed, only D-League standout Adonis Thomas holds a contract that isn’t fully guaranteed.
So what’s it all mean? Well, it means someone’s going to get the chop, and it may cost the Pistons a small chunk of change along the way.
NBA teams can hold a maximum of 15 players throughout the course of the season. With 17 guaranteed deals already on board, the Pistons’ training camp and preseason may feature one of the most contentious roster battles we’ve seen around these parts in years. Let’s take a look a closer look.
Threat Level: Midnight
Stan Van Gundy’s response to Brandon Jennings’ season-ending Achilles injury last January: acquire a pile of new point guards and let ’em sort it out on their own. Since Jennings went down, five guards have cycled through the system with the intent of vying for time at the point position (D.J. Augustin and John Lucas III have since came and went). Accounting for Jennings’ impending-but-still-a-ways-off recovery, the Pistons nearly have enough point guards to fill a third of an active roster on their own:
- Reggie Jackson
- Brandon Jennings
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Steve Blake
As questions swirl regarding Jennings’ recovery timetable and his true willingness to accept a reserve role once he returns to full health (though he’s on record of being open to coming off the bench), the acquisition of Blake, a 12-year NBA veteran, provides Van Gundy with an element of certainty at the backup point position.
A triumvirate of Jackson, Jennings, and Blake likely means Spencer Dinwiddie may find himself in hot water. Dinwiddie showed flashes during his rookie campaign but was riddled with inconsistency, shooting just .302 percent from the floor and frequently struggling to locate a sense of self-confidence. Dinwiddie “only” making six figures could make his potential release a relatively easy pill to swallow, as opposed to, you know, waiving Josh Smith.
Meanwhile, at the shooting guard position, D-League standout Adonis Thomas claims the lone unguaranteed contract on the roster but that does not necessarily mean he’ll be training camp fodder. A recent vote of confidence from Stan Van Gundy suggests Thomas will receive a role on the squad if he earns it, which of course would then mean three guaranteed deals would have to be removed via cut or trade. Translation: Spencer Dinwiddie likely knows he’s got his work cut out for him moving forward.
The Battle Up Front
From the moment the 2015 offseason jumped off, the Pistons knew there was going to be a void to be filled at the forward position. Considering gaps abounded even with Greg Monroe on board (who has since moved on to Milwaukee), the frontcourt situation was in dire need of being addressed. Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower may have overcompensated a bit in response. While the likes of newcomers Aron Baynes, Stanley Johnson, and Ersan Ilyasova have their spots on the roster all but etched in stone, there’s a slew who’ll be expected to fight for survival through camp:
- Danny Granger
- Cartier Martin
- Darrun Hilliard II
- Reggie Bullock
A former all-star, Danny Granger has played just 76 games total since suffering a debilitating knee injury in 2012. Coming over in an early July deal that brought Marcus Morris to Detroit, Granger is expected to be on the outside looking in, though waiving him would mean eating the $2.2 million he’s owed in 2016.
The same fate may be in store for Cartier Martin, who opted into the second year of his deal and was was one of the first signings of the Stan Van Gundy regime during the summer of 2014. However, Martin shot just .182 percent from the arc in 23 injury-riddled games for the Pistons this past season and barring a full-fledged turnaround, may find himself and his $1.2 million contract on the outs.
Meanwhile, the early return on Darrun Hilliard remains positive. Van Gundy believes the Pistons acquired a steal by picking him up in the early second round of this year’s draft (38th overall) and despite his shooting struggles in summer league (15-52, .288%), Hilliard may have an edge on the field on account of his youth and potential.
The 23-year-old Reggie Bullock remains a wild card and a relative unknown to this point. His $1.2 million salary may make him expendable, but a six-foot-seven wing who can supposedly spread the floor (though his career 31 percent marksmanship from the arc may belie such a notion), could provide some additional intrigue as training camp gets underway. As per custom, any height-inclined wing with a knack for spreading the floor tends to get a long look from Stan Van Gundy.
With six players comfortably on the fringe (Dinwiddie, Granger, Bullock, Hilliard, Martin, and Thomas) and at this point, three roster spots available, the end-of-roster intrigue is significant. With Dinwiddie’s system experience, Bullock’s potential, and Hilliard’s Van Gundy-endorsed abilities, a pair of vets (Granger & Martin) and a D-League up-and-comer (Thomas) appear to be on the block, but we’re only just getting warmed up.