The Detroit Pistons struck first Wednesday, getting commitments from their top two free-agent targets, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Gordon agreed to a five-year, $55 million deal, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. Villanueva also agreed to a five-year deal in the $35 million range -- or slightly above the anticipated mid-level exception of $5.6 million per year -- a person involved in those discussions said. The exact figures won't be known until the deals are signed on July 8, after the league and players association agree on the salary cap and luxury tax for the 2009-10 season.
After firing coach Michael Curry Tuesday, Pistons president Joe Dumars acted swiftly in targeting Gordon and Villanueva with the salary-cap space produced by the controversial decision to trade Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets for Allen Iverson and his $22 million expiring contract last November. But the signings posed two potential problems: 1) There isn't enough room in the same backcourt for Gordon, Richard Hamilton, and Rodney Stuckey; and 2) The Pistons will no longer be major players in the much better free-agent summer of 2010.
Not able to afford another miserable season for the mere chance that a big-ticket free agent would come to Detroit in '10, Dumars decided to strike now. The Pistons were among only a handful of teams with significant cap space this summer, and thus could dictate which players they pursued. Next summer, they might've ended up on the periphery of the excitement when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and others were looking for not only money, but also a championship-ready roster to join.
The Pistons don't have a championship roster, but they did have money. As a buyer in a seller's market, Dumars obviously felt the time to act was this summer, not next.
The backcourt logjam lends credence to the idea that Dumars isn't finished shuffling the deck this summer. Some league executives have speculated that once Dumars landed Gordon, a prolific scorer who doesn't do much else, he would begin exploring trade possibilities for Hamilton. That's somewhat ironic, given that Hamilton's contentious relationship with Curry led, in part, to the coach being fired after only one season. Hamilton has four years and nearly $50 million left on the extension he signed shortly before Billups was shipped to Denver and the demolition of the Pistons began. Moving Hamilton would give Dumars a Gordon-Stuckey backcourt, which presumably either Doug Collins or Avery Johnson -- the two front-runners to succeed Curry -- would find intriguing.
UPDATE: As he did with the Sixers' job earlier in the offseason, Collins has pulled his name out of consideration for the Pistons job, according to a person familiar with the situation. Johnson now has an unobstructed path to the job.