July 22, 2024

The Pistons have cap space. Why the Knicks, Lakers and Bucks could be trade partners

Less than 72 hours into the NBA free-agency negotiation period, the Detroit Pistons have not only added one of the bigger, realistically attainable names in the unrestricted market, agreeing with Tobias Harris on a two-year, $52 million deal, but the top priority of new president of basketball operations Trajan Langdon is still in front of him.

Langdon recently said the franchise is very much interested in being a dumping ground for unwanted contracts to obtain draft assets in return. Despite starting free agency with more than $50 million in cap space, after agreeing with Harris, Detroit still has roughly $28 million in space.

The Pistons have to spend money to get to the salary floor, set at $126.53 million (90 percent of the salary cap). They also still need to fill out a roster, so moves are on the horizon.

Here, though, we’re going to take a look at some financially strapped teams Detroit could deal with to take on assets and expand the roster.

The Knicks have been a hot topic this offseason. They gave up a boatload of draft picks to get Mikal Bridges from Brooklyn and are bringing back OG Anunoby, giving the title contenders one of the best wing duos in the NBA. That move, though, also puts New York in jeopardy of being hard-capped at the first apron, which, by all accounts, isn’t something the team is interested in.

The Knicks need to shed about $4.3 million to avoid this. Detroit can capitalize on this given its remaining financial flexibility while still addressing needs in the process.

Here is what a trade would have to look like to, potentially, satisfy both sides:

I’m sure some Pistons fans will hate this and some will love it, but it does allow both sides to meet their objective. For Detroit, it gets both a proven rim protector at the center spot in Robinson and a backup point guard in McBride. Most importantly, the Pistons get back their future first-rounder that makes it very, very hard and puts them at a disadvantage if they were to consider a trade for a top-30-ish player in the very near future. Giving up Duren and Ivey would be tough, as both players still have upside, but the Pistons have to consider giving them extensions next summer, and Langdon didn’t draft either one.

For New York, this trade sheds $6.5 million in salary, so the financial goal is met. Additionally, per league sources, the Knicks were very interested in Ivey during the 2022 NBA Draft and nearly traded for him. A move like this would allow the Knicks to have some young, lottery-pick prospects in the pipeline who can also contribute right now.

The Lakers are in a tough spot because LeBron James just agreed to a two-year, $104 million extension that would hard cap the team at the second apron with 15 guaranteed contracts already on the roster. If this holds, Los Angeles would need to shed about $25 million in salary to get access to the nontaxpayer midlevel exception ($12.8 million), but it isn’t allowed to aggregate its own players together in a trade. However, if James takes about $1 million less this year, a consideration per reports, the Lakers would be able to aggregate their own players in a trade.

Assuming James doesn’t take less money, here is what a trade would have to look like to, potentially, satisfy both sides:

  • Pistons receive Gabe Vincent and a future first.
  • Lakers receive a future second-round pick. 

This isn’t sexy, but Detroit can get a backup point guard and a coveted first-round pick, which checks two boxes for the franchise. For Los Angeles, it simply cuts $11 million of salary this year, helping the Lakers get closer to the nontaxpayer midlevel exception (MLE) while also clearing a roster spot.

Assuming James takes less money and L.A. can aggregate, here is what a trade would have to look like to, potentially, satisfy both sides:

  • Pistons receive Gabe Vincent and Jarred Vanderbilt, a future first and multiple future seconds.
  • Lakers receive a future second-round pick.

Same objective for both sides, except Detroit will take on close to $22 million in salary while the Lakers would shed $22 million in salary, getting very close to the MLE.

While everyone around them is getting better, the Bucks have been sitting pretty stagnant since free agency began. Could they shake things up?

Milwaukee is currently $11.5 million over the cap, and there have been rumors of Brook Lopez and his expiring contract potentially being moved. Detroit could step in and give the Bucks some youth and open up the nontaxpayer MLE to add another piece or two.

Here is what a trade would have to look like to, potentially, satisfy both sides:

  • Pistons receive Brook Lopez and a future first-round pick (2031).
  • Bucks receive Jalen Duren.

For Detroit, this move gets an elite rim protector and shooter from the center spot while also adding some draft capital. On Milwaukee’s end, and I’m not sure if the Bucks’ fan base will love this, but it gets a recent lottery pick under team control who can play now while also opening up a significant exception to use. This deal seems very far-fetched, but it doesn’t feel impossible.

(Photo of Brook Lopez: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)