A year after signing Mason Plumlee in free agency, the Detroit Pistons agreed to trade him to the Charlotte Hornets in a cap-related move first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
How might the Pistons utilize the cap flexibility created by trading Plumlee after taking Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick in the draft? And why did the Hornets prefer adding him to using cap space themselves?
Hornets get: Mason Plumlee, 2021 second-round pick (No. 37)
Pistons get: 2021 second-round pick (No. 57)
Detroit Pistons: B-
From a value standpoint, moving down 20 spots in the second round just to shed a contract signed eight months ago is a tough look for the Pistons. However, plenty has changed in that span, most notably the development of 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Stewart into a long-term starting center in Detroit. That rendered Plumlee more of a luxury than the necessity the Pistons thought last offseason.
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Meanwhile, Detroit surely sees an opportunity to use cap space each of the next two summers. The Pistons can now get approximately $20 million under the cap if they waive guard Cory Joseph (whose salary is $2.4 million guaranteed through Monday) and forward Rodney McGruder (non-guaranteed through next month), and renounce the rights to their free agents besides guard Hamidou Diallo. Detroit might have even more cap space next summer with the final season of Blake Griffin’s buyout coming off the books.
As a result, the Pistons look like they might have a short stint at the very top of the lottery after they picked No. 1 overall Thursday. Detroit has three building blocks in place in Stewart, All-Rookie First Team pick Saddiq Bey and forward Jerami Grant. Cade Cunningham provides a fourth, and the Pistons could push to add a fifth in free agency. Restricted free agent Lonzo Ball would be a fascinating fit alongside Cunningham and 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes, while a return to Detroit by free agent Spencer Dinwiddie would also make sense.
Because this deal is likely about cap space, it’s a little tough to judge the value for the Pistons until we see how they fare in free agency. For now, giving up value to move Plumlee’s salary looks like a reasonable if painful decision.
Charlotte Hornets: B-
Conversely, the Hornets have chosen Plumlee and the better draft pick over some of their projected $21 million in cap space. Including a 10% trade bonus, Plumlee will take up about $9 million of that room, leaving Charlotte with a little less than $12 million to spend.
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- That decision seems to signal the Hornets didn’t think they could get a quality starting center in free agency from a group that includes Richaun Holmes of the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers restricted free agent Jarrett Allen. After them, there’s a big drop-off to the next tier of centers, which includes Andre Drummond, Nerlens Noel and Daniel Theis.
Given that constraint, going with Plumlee is a reasonable choice, albeit a low-upside one. He’s already 31, making him three years older than Charlotte incumbent Cody Zeller. I’d probably have preferred to make a run at Montrezl Harrell if the Washington Wizards deem Harrell expendable after acquiring him in the Russell Westbrook trade.
On the plus side, the Hornets go from a low-value pick at the end of the second round to a high one early in it. That pick could yield a contributor like recent Charlotte second-round selections Devonte’ Graham (pick No. 34) and Cody Martin (pick No. 36).