Grades: Pistons add to frontlines with Andre Drummond and Jon Leuer
Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, has been on record for more than a year that Andre Drummond was a “maximum player.” He affirmed that notion after Detroit’s playoff exit back in April in saying that there would be “no hesitation” in the Pistons offering the 22-year-old center a max deal. So ended any suspense as to Drummond’s immediate financial future. Restricted free agency would keep Drummond from fully exploring the open market and the Pistons would remove any potential for hostility by working with Drummond to find his preferred deal.
The result: a reported five-year max deal (worth almost $130 million) with a player option after its fourth season. By waiting to forge such a deal now rather than agreeing to an extension last fall, Detroit preserved a sizable chunk of cap space—the functional difference between Drummond’s $8.2 million cap hold and starting salary of around $22.2 million. That margin allowed Detroit to dream bigger this summer by making a pitch to free agent big man Al Horford. Ultimately, the Pistons ended up shoring up their bench instead by committing much of their remaining cap room to Jon Leuer on a four-year, $42 million deal.
Whatever one might think of Leuer’s game, it’s better to have the resources to sign such a player than not. Drummond’s willingness to wait and Detroit’s communicated patience made it so. In Leuer the Pistons riff on the same rotational theme that made Anthony Tolliver (who reportedly is signing a two-year deal with the Kings) a relevant contributor. Any 6' 10" shooter has intrinsic value. One with Leuer’s feel for offense, rebounding returns and proven range (37.5% from three for his career, 38.2% in Phoenix last season) expands on that value to pull this kind of contract. Leuer will be paid like a reliable reserve because he’s become one; his limitations as a defender are no more severe than the majority of backup bigs and survivable in most contexts.
Of particular interest is whether he could reasonably give Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy a different look as a spot center relative to the incumbent Aron Baynes. Spatially, Baynes operates similarly to Drummond; both are really only comfortable when catching around the rim, posting up, defending inside, or lurking along the baseline. Leuer, if nothing else, could introduce an element of stretch to the rotation at that spot, provided Detroit can get by with him working at a point of particular vulnerability on defense. It’s a possibility worthy of some exploration at the least, even if Leuer’s career to date suggests it might not be his most comfortable role.
Drummond’s deal, no matter its seeming inevitability, is the move of import. With him locked in the Pistons have a chance to become playoff regulars after just snapping their six straight seasons of lottery finishes and coaching turmoil. To make a postseason berth the franchise standard is reasonable so long as he continues to progress, Van Gundy remains in charge and the Pistons retain a roster with this kind of upward mobility.