Test Run

Calderon proves an easy fit as he weighs his future with Pistons

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
No one is more central to the future of the Pistons than Andre Drummond. They hope Jose Calderon becomes a part of that future, as well. But Calderon hits free agency when the season ends and there’s no guarantee that one component critical to his evaluation process – how he meshes with Andre Drummond – will have entered anything into evidence for him when he weighs all factors.

“It would be great, for sure,” Calderon told me before the Pistons headed out on a weeklong Western Conference road swing. “It was great, the way he was playing and the way he was playing the pick and roll – and that’s what I do. I’d love to have time to play with him, for sure. It could be fun, but the more important thing is for him to get fully healthy and ready. When he’s ready, he’ll be back. If it’s 10 games, good. If it’s three, good. Whatever it is will be is OK.”

Drummond has missed the last 14 games with a stress fracture in the fifth lumbar vertabra. The initial timetable given for his return was four to six weeks. There have been no setbacks in his recovery, but logic dictates that the Pistons are going to err on the side of caution twice over where Drummond is concerned. The worst case would be to come back too soon and suffer a setback that wipes out a good chunk of Drummond’s off-season program, a time when the Pistons hope they can really accelerate his growth.

Calderon plans to return to Spain after the season, as he always does, where both he and his wife’s families live in close proximity. A loyal participant with the Spanish national team, Calderon hopes to play again with the Gasol brothers and the world power’s other regulars in Eurobasket competition in August. But, he says, his free-agent status clouds his summer participation this year.

“That’s why I can’t say yes to the national team right now, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ll see. These things always take time. I don’t like to think too much ahead.”

Calderon is non-committal about his vision for free agency, but it’s clear he is fitting in seamlessly with the Pistons. Longtime Pistons staffers say they see in Calderon the team-bonding initiatives that they saw from Chauncey Billups. He organized a team dinner when the Pistons had an off-day in Indianapolis last month and says he’s looking forward to the West Coast swing for similar opportunities.

It also isn’t lost on Calderon that the Pistons acquired him not for his expiring contract, but to give them the home-team advantages in re-signing him and nearly three months to sell themselves to him.

“The good thing, when the trade was done, they want me here – that makes a big difference,” Calderon said. “I feel like I’m wanted. I’m really comfortable, the way it’s been, and when July arrives, we’ll talk and see what happens. It’s not like, I throw you, Jose Calderon, in a trade because you make it work. They went into the trade to get me and they’ve tried to get me for a while, so it’s really nice.”

Calderon is averaging 7.6 assists and 1.7 turnovers in 16 games since joining the Pistons, numbers that are in line with his career averages of 7.2 and 1.7. But those numbers might get even better as his familiarity with the Pistons – and theirs with him – grows or when Drummond gets back to finish lobs. Over the last five games, Calderon is averaging 10.8 assists and 1.4 turnovers.

“It was about (the benefit of) time,” he said. “There are going to be games, maybe, I can’t get a lot, but still I think we’re playing better together. It’s about practice time, games, chemistry. It’s about knowing where they can get the ball. It’s familiarity, for sure. I’m happy everybody is comfortable with me out there. The bad thing is we didn’t finish those games with a win, but I think we’re getting better. I think we’ve got a lot of good things we can do.”

Brian Hill, standing in for Pistons coach Lawrence Frank while he stays at his wife’s side during her illness, said Calderon has fit into the offense more than the offense has been tailored for Calderon.

“It really hasn’t been tweaked that much,” he said. “I think it’s just the mind-set of the player. Where Brandon (Knight) has a little bit of a scorer’s mentality, Jose has a little bit more of a setup mentality. He has a very good understanding of the play, of how defenses have to cover the play and who might be open in a given situation. I just think it’s his background, having been a point guard his whole life and all the experience he has both at the professional and international levels. That’s who he is. He’s a guy who reads defenses extremely well and knows where the open man is going to be.”

Calderon says the major difference between the offense he runs with the Pistons and the offense he operated in Toronto is the focus – the big men, Greg Monroe and Drummond, for the Pistons, and the wings, DeMar DeRozan and, now, Rudy Gay with Toronto.

“Here, we go more into the bigs because we’ve got Moose and Dre, when he was there, and we run a lot through them. Now we’ve got B Knight at the two and he can do a lot of things. With Greg now and with B Knight at the two, we mix it up a little more, but before that I think the offense was more focused on Greg and the big guys – it started in and out.”

Calderon played sporadically along with Kyle Lowry this season in Toronto, but he’s accustomed to being the sole ballhandler and distributor. It’s different, he said, playing alongside Knight – and two other players with point guard on their resumes, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. But one of the reasons Calderon has proven himself a joy to coach is that he embraces the differences and tries to figure out how best to exploit the personnel around him, whatever its configuration, to the team’s best advantage.

“I’ve got no problems,” he said. “Sometimes if you are hitting shots or you are shooting the three well, you can have B Knight or Stuck or Will handle the ball. It’s another shooter you can put out there, so I’m comfortable that way. At the end of the day, it’s about being a guard. You don’t have to be just a point guard or just a two. The good thing about this team is we can mix that a little bit.”

In the five days between the trade’s completion and Calderon’s clearance to play once visa issues were resolved, Frank and the coaching staff forged a vision of how Calderon would fit – and they’re now seeing it come to life.

“It was always to be a facilitator first and then, if there was the opportunity to score, that second. But he’s a much better shooter than people give him credit for,” Hill said. “I’m surprised when he has open jump shots if he doesn’t knock them down. But the primary vision that L had, I think, was a guy to make our offense that much more efficient and effective and to be a facilitator for the other four guys on the floor.”

That’s a vision Joe Dumars will do his best to convince Calderon should be extended beyond the season’s final 18 games.