Yesterday, the Detroit Pistons waived 2008 second-round draft pick and flopper extraordinaire, Deron Washington. They had initially signed him back in August to be their 14th and last man, giving him a two-year minimum salary deal with $250,000 guaranteed in the first season. Yet after bringing in Chucky Atkins on an unguaranteed one-year deal for training camp (a move that they won’t have foreseen prior to the Washington signing), the Pistons began to feel that Atkins was more deserving of the 14th man spot, and so they waived Washington to allow them to keep Chucky.
That’s the official line, at least. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense though.
Disregarding the respective talent levels and fits on the roster of the two players, the finances of the situation seemed to dictate that Deron stayed on. Washington’s large amount of guaranteed money (over 50% of his overall contract for this year) meant that the Pistons could have kept him on until the league-wide contract guarantee date of January 10th, without having to pay him a single extra penny outside of meal stipends. Waive him yesterday, and he’ll cost $250,000; waive him on January 6th, and he’ll still only cost $250,000.
Therefore, why waive him?
The Pistons aren’t pressed for cash – after a summer of cap room, they rock a payroll of only $58,597,137, 25th in the league. They’ve run out of cap room and exceptions, hence the need for all the minimum salary deals, but they’ll spend what they can anyway. They can afford to swallow Washington without any repercussions coming from it; they’ll lose very little from it. They’ve lost a player that wasn’t in the rotation, and no extra money than what they had already committed, but they’ll also gain absolutely nothing from it. Even if Washington only played about 14 minutes between now and the guarantee date, it’s 14 minutes more than an empty roster spot will fill.
Yet for some reason, they really want that extra spot.
Detroit said from the start, even before bringing in Atkins, that they only wanted to keep 14 players on the roster this year. They signed Washington with that in mind, and signed Atkins more in hope than expectation. Yet after Atkins showed that he had enough left in the tank at age 35 to be a more worthwhile investment than the 23-year-old athletic project, they switched the two while sticking to that plan of keeping 14.
Why they’re so staunch about keeping the fifteenth spot clear remains a mystery; even if they’re planning to accommodate a midseason pick-up at some point, they don’t need the spot until they need it, and they don’t need it right now. (They don’t need Washington, either. But he’s a free player. How bad can that be?) So what they’ve done is open a roster spot for a possible move that isn’t even scheduled, without saving any money in doing so.
I don’t see it. Even if you really need Chucky Atkins – and they don’t – why not keep Washington as well?
The only risk to keeping Washington would be if he were to get seriously injured, at which point Detroit is bound to keep paying him until he’s healthy again. This annoying if justified stipulation caught out Miami and Orlando last year, who became stuck with paying fully guaranteed contracts to Jason Richards and Mike Wilks respectively after they both suffered bad knee injuries in training camp. But that risk is minimal, and it’s even smaller if you consider that Washington was only scheduled to be an inactive list talent.
Now, since Washington has been waived, he can’t be traded. He can’t play for the team. They no longer have any rights on him of any sort. And they still have to pay him $250,000.
Maybe this could be a similar situation to the one that the San Antonio Spurs have going on with Malik Hairston and Marcus E. Williams. Maybe it’s a precursor to a two-for-one trade in the next few days, as unlikely as that seems. Maybe Washington asked for his release for some reason, and the Pistons were feeling remarkably generous. Or maybe it’s just not something that’s been thought through.
Detroit used a draft pick on Washington, stashed him for a year, let him develop, then gave him some guaranteed money, yet now they’ve cut him before they see a single minute’s return on that. They’ve not cut him for a salary saving, and they’ve not even cut him for Chucky Atkins; they’ve cut him for a roster spot that they don’t need yet, and may never need.
It may have only been a 59th pick and $250,000, but it’s all now gone to waste. And it needn’t have done. Just think of what Deron Washington could achieved between now and early January.
(As always, if there’s some logic or crucial information point here that I’ve missed, do please let me know. But if there is, I don’t see it right now.)