The Last NBA Free Agent Destination: Detroit

charlie_vJoe Dumars has his work cut out for him if he plans on luring any NBA free agents to the Detroit Pistons.

Before Dumars, the president of basketball operations for the Pistons, signed Chauncey Billups to a free agent contract in 2002 — a signing that was part of a catalyst for Detroit capturing the 2004 NBA Championship — free agents who flocked to the Motor City ranged from Cedric Ceballos, Christian Laettner and Loy Vaught. That’s not exactly a “Big Three”.

But even when the franchise acquired players on the open market over the last few seasons, the Pistons haven’t exactly received a return on their investment. During the summer of 2009 Detroit used their salary cap flexibility to sign free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to five-year contracts each at a grand total of $90 million.

Since leaving the Milwaukee Bucks where Villanueva averaged 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game his final season, he posted 11.9 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Pistons in 2009-10 and last season those numbers dropped to 11.1 and 3.2. This season Villanueva has been hampered by an ankle injury and only appeared in 2 games.

Good times. At least Gordon’s numbers are starting to improve.

His scoring average went from 20.7 points per game during the 2008-09 season with the Chicago Bulls, down to 13.8 (2009-10) and 11.2 (2010-11). In 15 starts this season for Detroit, Gordon is averaging 14.3 points per game.

It’s one thing to sell free agents on coming to Detroit, but getting them to perform and make good on the big bank salary they receive is a whole different story these days. Selling the hope of a blossoming rookie like Brandon Knight to ticket buyers may be their one saving grace during this tumultuous season, but that won’t fly on the open market.

Don’t expect a huge free agent market to flock to Detroit. Out of all 30 teams in the league it has to be the last destination an NBA free agent would choose.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press put it this way:

“Big-time NBA free agents don’t consider Detroit an option. Never have. Never will.

NBA unrestricted free-agent stars consider the quality of nightlife and other extracurricular activities when choosing their next place of employment. Now, a lot of that has to do with NBA players usually being about three years younger than a baseball player when they reach unrestricted free agency for the first time.

They’re probably still single at 25 and more interested in partying. Too often, young NBA players are more immature than their baseball counterparts.

And let’s face it, Detroit isn’t exactly South Beach.”

While the Detroit Tigers can now boast Prince Fielder on their marquee this coming spring after signing the slugging first baseman last week, the Pistons have Tayshaun Prince. Detroit threw $27 million over the course of the four-year deal when they brought him back this past summer as un-restricted free agent, along with restricted free agents Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey.

That was the extent of Detroit’s shopping list.

With 4 wins to show for their season and stuck in a four game losing streak, Detroit has no choice but to look ahead to the offseason and the chance to draft their next cornerstone of their franchise.

After that, it’s back to trying to sell free agents on coming to Detroit for Joe Dumars.