Roster spot could be on the line for No. 2 pick Siva in Summer League
But the stakes are a little different now. The most dire consequence of a Pitino tongue lashing might be humiliation or a few extra wind sprints. The worst result of an NCAA tournament loss is an early flight home and no celebratory parade.
Now it’s not his pride on the line; it’s his livelihood. Siva parlayed his four-year bachelor of basketball degree from Louisville into the No. 56 pick in last month’s NBA draft. That’s an area of the draft that guarantees not much beyond a press conference and photo opportunity shared with lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and early second-rounder Tony Mitchell.
“You’re definitely out here playing for a job,” Siva said after his first Summer League practice, held Thursday night in an overly air-conditioned Orlando rec center while a thunderstorm rattled the roof. “Everybody’s competing their hardest. But you’ve just got to go out there and play the game. You’ve played it your whole life and you just continue on that route.”
Perhaps no one has more at stake among the 15 players participating in practices – Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight won’t play in Summer League games and Kyle Singler might not, either – than Siva.
The Pistons have an interesting picture at point guard at the moment, arguably anywhere from crowded to sparse. Both Jose Calderon and Will Bynum, who ended the season sharing time, are free agents, though the door is open for the return of one or both. Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey have both spent the bulk of their careers there, yet they finished the 2012-13 season sharing time at shooting guard.
In that relative uncertainty lies opportunity for Siva. An impressive week in Orlando and he might convince Joe Dumars and Maurice Cheeks that he could, at least, be a perfectly capable No. 3 point guard with the potential to push his way into the rotation. On the other hand, as the No. 56 pick – where players don’t typically come out of Summer League with a guaranteed contract – he could leave Orlando still vulnerable to personnel moves that squeeze him out of a roster spot.
“I just have to continue to go out there and prove myself,” he said. “They said they wouldn’t have drafted me if they didn’t want me on the team – that’s a pretty good sign,” Siva said. “(Assistant general manager) George David told me to just go out there and play. He told me not to worry about anything – just go out there and play my game, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Siva’s first practice showed the Pistons what they expected to see. He’s a tenacious on-ball defender who is very good with the ball in his hands and is well-schooled as a point guard. He’s also struck all who’ve come in contact with him as extremely courteous and mature beyond his 22 years. He’s shown up for this extended job interview as prepared as he could be, for which he credits the grooming of Pitino, whose NBA experience, Siva feels, gives him a half-step head start on winning a job.
“I think playing for coach P really helps me out a lot,” he said. “We run a lot of pick and rolls and he stresses defense, like NBA coaches stress it. I think it really helped me out in this process of coming here and playing this type of system and making that transition.”
Pitino’s practices are notoriously intense, so Siva wasn’t overwhelmed when the Pistons jumped knee deep into full-court drills heavy on conditioning Thursday night fresh off the predraft process that prospects find draining. Siva said he worked out for 11 NBA teams before spraining an ankle that required him to pull out of three workouts. The travel and workout load makes it challenging to stay in peak condition.
“You’re traveling, you’re doing the individual workouts and then you’re on a flight back, so you don’t really get any extra time to do extra cardio or anything, so you’ve really got to do it on your own,” he said. “Get into the hotel fitness center or do extra stuff. It’s pretty tough, but you’ve got to grind through it and keep your body right.”
The only other point guard on the Summer League roster is Korie Lucious, who finished at Iowa State after playing under Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Siva is likely to soak up the majority of minutes over five games to give the Pistons a thorough evaluation. One of Siva’s 11 workouts came for the Pistons and he left with a good vibe, he said, and is eager to play on a team with the young frontcourt talent in place.
“With Greg (Monroe), you can do a lot of different things – pick and pop, get him in the post,” Siva said. “With Tony, you throw lobs; Andre, throw lobs. Those guys, you love playing with because they go up and get it. Throw it around the rim and they’re going to go and get it.”
His success in initiating successful lob connections, taking care of the ball and playing harassing defense will be Siva’s charge for the next week, and how well he handles the pressure knowing a contract could be on the line will be telling. There’s another layer of pressure for Siva, far removed from the court, too. He’s getting married later this month to Patience McCroskey, whom he met in college. The honeymoon might have to wait, though.
“A couple of days,” he said, “and then I’ll be back in Detroit, getting ready.”