After a summer of unparalleled player movement, specifically star movement, 2020 free agency projects to pale in comparison. Even with so few stars set to be free agents, players are voluntarily removing themselves from the market. Kyle Lowry and Draymond Green have already agreed to extensions with their current teams, and the Detroit Free Press reported that Andre Drummond also wants an extension from the Pistons.
Drummond is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract signed in the summer of 2016, but he has a player option on the last year. That means Drummond could be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Nevertheless, Drummond has expressed interest in staying in Detroit for the long haul, and that means signing a maximum extension that would add an additional three years to his current contract.
The mechanics are fairly straightforward. Drummond isn’t eligible for a supermax extension because he hasn’t made an All-NBA team since 2016, so a regular max extension would start at 120 percent of his current salary (about $32.5 million). Such an extension would keep Drummond under contract with the Pistons until 2022-23. if Drummond were to hit unrestricted free agency, he could sign a max starting at $34.8 million, so he would be sacrificing some future earning power by agreeing to a contract now.
Drummond certainly thinks of himself as a max player, but it’s unclear if his production merits that. He isn’t a particularly effective finisher at the basket, despite having elite physical tools, and he doesn’t have shooting range beyond the paint. His playmaking is almost non-existent, and even though he has improved his free-throw shooting dramatically, it has only topped out at about 60 percent from the foul line. However, the presence of Drummond as a lob threat is important for Detroit’s vertical spacing, and he’s an excellent offensive rebounder. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Pistons rebound 29 percent of their own misses when Drummond is on the court.
His value on the defensive end is much clearer. Drummond defended 7.1 shots per game at the rim last season, and forced opponents to shoot 6.5 percent below average on those looks. He doesn’t have the same defensive impact as centers like Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, or Myles Turner, but he is above average. The Pistons could easily build a more than competent defense around him if the rest of their players contributed.
As the Free Press indicated, Drummond profiles closer to the an Al Horford or Nikola Vucevic-level center than a max center (for context, Horford signed for 4 years/$97 million and Vucevic signed for 4 years/$100 million this offseason). Nevertheless, it would probably be bad business for the Pistons to pay Drummond half as much as they are playing Blake Griffin. And here’s where we get to the real intrigue of Detroit’s decision.
This is not a team ready to contend, not even in the Eastern Conference, and with Griffin already under contract, the Pistons would be committing about 55 percent of their cap space to two bigs, neither of whom are capable of being the best player on a championship team. Reggie Jackson and Josh Smith’s stretched contract finally come off the books this offseason, so Detroit could finally have some money to play with – if they show restraint regarding Drummond.
By re-committing to their franchise center at the number he is asking for, the Pistons are setting themselves up to be a perennial also-ran playoff team. They barely made the postseason last year while Griffin had arguably the best offensive season of his career. They probably can’t count on Griffin to replicate that level of production, so any improvement in the standings would be dependent on Drummond getting better (which has happened at fairly incremental rates, if at all, over the last few years), or Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya popping in a major way.
There is value in maintaining a middle class existence in the NBA. Regularly making the playoffs and winning a series puts a team in position to be one step away from making the jump to contention. But the Pistons aren’t guaranteed at that level even with Drummond, and unless they know something about their internal development that the rest of the league isn’t aware of, it’s hard to foresee them getting there with this current roster.
Andre Drummond is a good center. A two-time All-Star who has fantastic durability is not a player worth slighting. But he likely won’t be worth this maximum contract, and Detroit can’t afford to pay him this money and still build a contending team. If an extension is to be done, Drummond will have to make some sacrifices. Otherwise, the 2020 free agent class will get a little bit shinier.