Brown, McCallum ready to battle it out for what looks like only open spot on Pistons roster
Ray McCallum Jr. and Lorenzo Brown have a month to make their case for the last spot on the Pistons roster. It’s a competition they’ve prepared to wage for the last decade.
That’s about when their paths first crossed on the AAU circuit, where basketball players learn competition as a way of life.
“I just know this is a team that is looking to add a third point guard,” said McCallum, who finished his high school career at Detroit Country Day and then played three years for his father at Detroit Mercy before entering the NBA draft in 2013. “Obviously, it comes down to competing for it. Everything is earned; nothing is given. When I saw the opportunity to come back to Detroit, I thought it would be a good situation. When I talked to coach Stan and everybody, they said just come and compete. That’s something I’ve done my whole life. I’ve always had to compete and earn everything I’ve gotten.”
The battle to back up Reggie Jackson and free-agent addition Ish Smith at point guard is really the only roster suspense present headed to training camp. Injuries could scramble the situation, of course, but as of today there are 14 virtually assured roster spots and one uncertainty: Brown vs. McCallum for the No. 3 point guard spot.
Brown enters with a half-step head start based on his familiarity with the Pistons and his strong performance in Summer League. Brown has spent the past two seasons playing for the organization’s Grand Rapids D-League – around 10-day contracts with Minnesota, Philadelphia and Phoenix – but finished last season with the Pistons.
More than any other place, he felt an immediate sense of belonging with the Pistons, Brown says.
“When I first got here, everybody just welcomed me and I felt like I was home,” he said. “I still feel the same way. That plays a big part in team chemistry.”
Brown also has the contrast in size he offers going for him. Smith was a slam-dunk choice for the Pistons to back up Jackson for his ability to push the pace and his upbeat personality and league-wide reputation for high character. But coaches usually look to the No. 3 point guard to provide something the backup might not. At 6-foot-0, Smith doesn’t offer much size; should defensive matchups in the backcourt become problematic, the 6-foot-5 Brown would be a suitable alternative. Van Gundy admitted after Summer League, acknowledging Smith passed the test, that the Pistons probably would look for a No. 3 point guard with size.
“On the defensive side of things, I think I can come in and harass a guy and let Reggie come in or Ish come in and do what they do,” Brown said. “In Summer League, I felt like I used my height and my length to my advantage.”
McCallum’s edge comes at the offensive end, where he’s a more naturally gifted scorer. He’s also got more NBA experience with 156 games, including 46 starts, over the past three seasons. McCallum was drafted 36th overall in ’13 by Sacramento, Brown – who also skipped his senior year, at North Carolina State – going 52nd overall in the same draft to Minnesota. He’s played 63 NBA games with seven starts.
Van Gundy has known McCallum since he was in diapers, coaching on Stu Jackson’s staff with Ray McCallum Sr. at Wisconsin after McCallum was born in June 1991. But McCallum says that wasn’t a factor in his decision to join the Pistons and isn’t banking on their relationship influencing a roster decision.
“It’s funny because everyone brings that up, but that had nothing to do with it,” he said. “I just looked at it as a good opportunity. Same with my agent. Talked it over with my family.”
Indeed, McCallum has likely spent more time in the team’s Auburn Hills practice facility than some of their more recent additions, frequently working out there while a high school teammate of Jordan Dumars, son of ex-Pistons great and former team president Joe Dumars.
“I’ve been coming up here since I was in high school, 16 years old, and would come to the games and up to the practice facility. This is home. It feels like home and it feels good to be back.”
He knows it won’t be home for good, or for long, unless he outplays Lorenzo Brown over the next four weeks. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Nowadays, that’s just how it is with AAU and travel ball growing up, everybody knows everybody. Just on this team, Tobias Harris and Reggie Bullock and I, we were all in the same McDonald’s (All-American) game. There’s a lot of familiarity with a lot of guys on the team. Definitely played against Lorenzo ever since we were probably 15 or 16. That’s just how the game is nowadays. All of us played against each other growing up.”
“I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing,” Brown said. “I try not to let that affect how I’m playing. I’ve been knowing Ray since I got to the NBA – we’ve known each other for longer than that, actually. He’s a good guy. But we’re both out here to compete.”