AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons addressed long-term needs and the top of their roster with last week’s deal for Blake Griffin. They tidied up the back end of the rotation at Thursday’s trade deadline by sending out in separate deals the two players who accompanied Griffin to Detroit.
Adding longtime Stan Van Gundy favorite Jameer Nelson at point guard and James Ennis on the wings shored up the two areas of the Pistons roster thinned by injury and trade.
Nelson likely will serve as Ish Smith’s backup until Reggie Jackson can return from his grade 3 ankle sprain – likely sometime in early March – and Ennis gives Van Gundy a needed versatile defender to complement his wing rotation of Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard.
After going with an eight-man rotation for the past two games – using only Kennard, Anthony Tolliver and Langston Galloway off the bench – Van Gundy can attack the season’s final 29 games with a deeper, more versatile roster.
The Pistons shipped Willie Reed to Chicago for Nelson and Brice Johnson to Memphis for Ennis. Reed, who began a six-game NBA suspension on Wednesday for a 2017 domestic assault incident, and Johnson were part of last week’s trade that sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and a protected first-round pick to the Clippers for Griffin.
Nelson, who turns 36 on Friday, was the 20th pick in the 2004 NBA draft out of St. Joseph’s and had his best seasons under Van Gundy in Orlando, for which he played his first 10 seasons. Nelson made the 2009 NBA All-Star team – the season Van Gundy took the Magic to the NBA Finals – when he averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 assists.
Van Gundy has frequently cited Nelson as the embodiment of a good teammate throughout his four-year tenure with the Pistons, but adding Nelson isn’t solely or even primarily about injecting character and veteran leadership. You can bet Van Gundy expects Nelson to provide a steady hand with the second unit and excellent insurance in case Jackson experiences complications with his return from injury.
In 43 games with New Orleans this season – Nelson was recently shipped to Chicago as part of the Nikola Mirotic deal – Nelson showed he can still be an effective player, averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 assists in 21 minutes a game. He’s an effective 3-point shooter, as well, connecting at a .364 clip and attempting slightly more than half of his shots from the arc.
Ennis, 27, is in his fourth season out of Long Beach State. In 45 games for Memphis including 14 starts, he averaged 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23 minutes a game, shooting right at league average (.357) from the 3-point arc. For his career, Ennis is a .369 3-point shooter and he’s got the length and quickness to become an option for Van Gundy when he needs to protect leads with strong defensive units.
The Pistons sent a future second-round pick to Memphis in the deal for Ennis and agreed to give Chicago the option to swap second-rounders in 2022 in the deal for Nelson, according to various media reports.