Rough and Ready

Harrellson is 15th Piston, but he’s not coming in to sit at the end of their bench

Josh Harrellson
Josh Harrellson
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Josh Harrellson became the 15th Pistons player under contract this week, bringing them to the NBA roster limit. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Harrellson is resigned to taking up the last spot on the bench.

“I think there’s always opportunity,” Harrellson said after a Thursday workout under Pistons assistant coach Rasheed Wallace and alongside Andre Drummond. “Nothing is set right now. We’ve got a new coach coming in. I know he’s going to start Greg (Monroe) and Andre. They’re both great big men; they’ve both got a bright future. I don’t know who’s going to be the backup center. Greg could stay at the four or he can stay at the five and I could play the four. I can shoot. I can stretch the floor.

“Who knows right now? I think there’s the possibility for minutes for anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m going to show them what I can do and I’m going to work hard every day and then it’s in the coach’s hands.”

That mind-set was as much the appeal for the Pistons with Harrellson as his skill set, which includes something that neither Drummond nor Monroe provide: a 3-point threat. The Pistons contacted several players, but targeted Harrellson, brought him in for a workout and left little doubt when it ended that he was their guy.

“After my workout, I was talking to Mr. Dumars and he was saying, ‘All the coaches like you. Everybody wants you to be our 15th guy and we’re going to make that happen.’ Right then and there, I kind of knew they had interest and I know they were going to submit some kind of offer. I didn’t know if it was going to be ‘Come to camp and make the team like you have the previous two years,’ but they liked me enough to guarantee a little money and that gives me confidence in them and a better relationship.”

It has been widely reported that Harrellson signed a two-year contract with the Pistons, with the first year partially guaranteed and the second a team option. That’s different for Harrellson, who made the Knicks after being drafted 45th in 2011 and then – after being traded to Houston and waived by the Rockets – made Miami’s opening night roster but was waived by the Heat in January at the deadline for all NBA contracts to be picked up for the full season.

Harrellson shopped hard around the NBA for two weeks after that, but interested teams wanted him to go to the D-League. Instead, he spent two months playing in Puerto Rico and then two more in China, returning to the United States in late July after winning league MVP honors for averaging 22 points and 18 rebounds a game. That stint, he believes, raised his profile and elicited interest from a handful of NBA teams. He worked out for the Lakers, he said, and San Antonio, Indiana and Sacramento all made inquiries.

But the Pistons moved first and he was already intrigued by them, based on the positive impression left by his 2011 predraft workout for them. The Pistons contacted Harrellson in early August, he said.

“I’ve liked the Pistons ever since I came in for a predraft workout,” he said. “We’ve always had a good connection. They’ve always liked me and now that I was a free agent and they could get their hands on me and they’ve got room, I’m looking forward to it. I came here and worked out and I don’t know what happened (with other teams) after that. From top to bottom, I like everybody here. I’m comfortable and I told my agent to work it out with Detroit and this is where I want to be.”

Harrellson said his China experience restored his confidence. Those big numbers weren’t put up against the same level of competition he’ll face in the NBA, but they weren’t amassed against nobodies, either.

“We played a lot of good teams,” he said. “There were good players. Every team I played against had a former NBA big man. Hassan Whiteside was on a team, Craig Smith, Hilton Armstrong. Every time I played against somebody who was good. I played well. That’s what I needed to do – go play, get my confidence back and show what I could do. China was a great experience because they let me play. It was great to get my confidence back.”

Confidence in the face of long odds has carried Harrellson a long way. After playing sparingly in his sophomore and junior years at Kentucky – buried behind the likes of NBA first-rounders DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson – Harrellson saved Kentucky’s 2010-11 season when heralded recruit Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible. The Wildcats lost in the national semifinals despite a thin bench after losing five players to the first round of the 2010 NBA draft.

The Pistons scouted Kentucky practices hard that year, the only opportunity to view Kanter, and wound up taking Harrellson’s teammate, Brandon Knight, with the No. 8 pick. And they liked Harrellson’s hard edge. It was just what they were looking to add to round out their roster.

“I think they liked the fact that I play hard,” Harrellson said. “I don’t care who I go against. I don’t care what your name is. I’m going to play as hard as I can. The hype and intimidation doesn’t get to me. I’m a hard-nosed player and that’s what they liked. They want to bring back the Bad Boys mentality to Detroit and if we get everybody on the same page, I think we can.”