Ben Gordon left Chicago for Detroit three summers ago in rather bitter circumstances. After two summers of failed contract negotiations, while on his way out the door, Gordon unsubtly stated that he was leaving to join an organization “where winning is the number one priority.”
This has been the exact opposite of what has actually transpired, and last night, he found himself in a trade that proved it. Gordon was traded to Charlotte, along with a protected first round pick, to Charlotte in exchange for Corey Maggette. More pertinently, Gordon and the pick were traded for Maggette’s expiring $10.9 million contract. With all due respect to Corey Maggette, he’s otherwise irrelevant here.
Perhaps Gordon thought that Detroit spending big, on him and Charlie Villanueva, was synonymous with prioritizing winning. If so, he was wrong. Since that summer of expenditure, the Pistons have been a moribund franchise, hamstrung by a lack of cohesiveness, submarined by infighting, and unable to do much about it due to the payroll inflexibility they saddled themselves with. Indeed, despite not winning more than 30 games in any season since signing the duo, the Pistons have been the least active team in recent years with regards to roster turnover, sticking with what they had even while knowing it wasn’t working. With so many big, underperforming contracts, they hadn’t the flexibility to do anything else. Last summer’s business was spent on re-signing a team that had just lost 52 games. The Pistons have been stranded in a wilderness of their own making.
The only salvation since that time has been some success in the draft. Greg Monroe is well on his way to a maximum value contract, Jonas Jerebko has made Villanueva completely obsolete, and Brandon Knight pretty much matches Gordon’s production already while being only 20. There’s another top 10 pick coming. The only thing missing from quite a nice situation going forward has been financial flexibility.
With this trade, they now have it. Gordon’s contract runs for two more years for a total of $25.6 million, whereas Maggette expires after this year. The financial savings in the upcoming year are negligible to the point of irrelevancy. In the summer of 2013, however, the Pistons can finally start again. Between Maggette, Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum, Austin Daye and the remainder of Rip Hamilton’s bought-out deal, the Pistons will see over $28 million of expiring (and largely dead) salary fall off their cap. If the amnesty clause is used on Villanueva at some point between now and then, that figure rises to $37 million. Waiving Rodney Stuckey — whose final season is not fully guaranteed — could add an extra $4.5 million if needs be. And the young talent will still be there.