Home to Stay
The good news came when he arrived in New York and got word from Joe Dumars letting Russell know that he’d be a member of the Detroit Pistons for the rest of the season, wearing the uniform of the team he grew up rooting for and the one his father donned during the 1988 NBA Finals.
“He said, ‘You earned it. You deserve this opportunity. Continue to work hard for us and welcome to the Pistons organization,’ ” Russell said after Wednesday’s morning shootaround. “Oh, man. I was ecstatic. I told him I’m going to continue to work hard and I want to be a Piston until I get done playing ball.”
Damien Wilkins and Vernon Macklin, the two other Pistons on non-guaranteed contracts, also had their deals picked up for the rest of the season. Wilkins’ spot seemed pretty certain, but he took the news with the same joy as Russell.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Wilkins said. “For a lot of my career, I’ve been in this situation. You really never know until you know. The news I got, it was the best news I’ve had all year. It’s a huge nugget off of my back. I was able to just kind of breathe.”
Lawrence Frank announced that all three players would be Pistons for the duration of the season before shootaround began, drawing a rousing ovation from teammates.
“It’s great,” Frank said. “You always feel so good for guys like Walker, Damien and Vernon who were on non-guaranteed contracts. You can imagine what they’re going through. Not only are they rewarded for their ability (but for) their team-first attitude and embracing their role and what they need to do to help our team be successful.”
“It was great,” Russell said of the official welcome from teammates. “Me, Damien and Vernon, we’ve been working. It’s a blessing. The guys have really accepted me well, all of us. I’m starting to feel like Piston family, for sure.”
What role he maintains depends in part on how ready to contribute Will Bynum and Ben Gordon really are. Bynum’s missed 14 games and Gordon 10, but both went through the light shootaround after practicing the past two days. So did Brandon Knight, outfitted with the protective mask fitted for him after suffering a broken nose in Saturday’s win over New Orleans. Frank wasn’t yet ready to proclaim all three available for tonight’s game with the Nets, but a fully restored backcourt is imminent. Regardless, the Pistons are happy to have Walker on board.
“He earned it,” Frank said. “The guy took advantage of an opportunity and you’ve got to give him a great deal of credit for taking it and not looking back. His mind-set is he doesn’t want this to be one year, so now he has to put forth the effort and the work and the study to stick.”