AUBURN HILLS – It’s a 50-50 call whether either Jose Calderon or Zaza Pachulia will wind up in Dwane Casey’s everyday rotation, but both veterans are uniquely qualified to handle their role no matter what side of the coin comes up for them.
“They can still play an NBA basketball game. They can contribute,” Ed Stefanski said of the two veterans he signed to fill out the Pistons roster. “But if they don’t play one night, they’re not going to be moping in the locker room. They’re going to be ready to play all the time and they’re going to help these young guys become professionals.”
That’s a coveted makeup for players in the position Calderon and Pachulia face with the Pistons. If Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith are available, they’re most likely to command each of the 48 minutes available at point guard. Calderon’s size and 3-point shooting will give Casey opportunities to use him in tandem with Jackson or Smith – Jackson especially – but there could be stretches of the schedule where Calderon doesn’t get off the bench.
Ditto for Pachulia at center. Even though he’s No. 2 behind Andre Drummond, the ability of Blake Griffin, Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson to play center – particularly in an era when so many second-unit centers possess perimeter skills – could mean Pachulia is used situationally more than as a rotation staple.
So it was imperative for Stefanski that he find players just like Calderon and Pachulia after first addressing the most pressing free-agent need – an athletic wing to complement Stanley Johnson at small forward, Glenn Robinsin III.
“I’m very excited about our two veterans in Pachulia and Jose Calderon,” he said. “Both winners in the NBA. Both have won championships. Both – if you talk to people in the league – they’re as good a guys as you’re going to get, as professional as you’re going to get.”
Calderon, who’ll turn 37 in training camp, started 32 games for Cleveland last season, shot 46 percent from the 3-point arc and had a 3:1 assists-to-turnovers ratio in 16 minutes a game. Pachulia, 34, is a 15-year veteran who started 127 games while winning two NBA championships over the past two seasons with Golden State.
Among the many reasons both European natives – Calderon was a fixture on the powerful Spanish national team for years, Pachulia a product of Georgia – have no trouble finding a market for their services is their basketball IQs. Calderon sees the game two and three moves ahead in addition to being a career 41 percent 3-point threat. Pachulia, one of the NBA’s strongest players, is on anyone’s list of top screen setters in an era dominated by pick-and-roll concepts.
When Stefanski looked at the roster he inherited, he prioritized player development as a way to get the most out of former No. 1 picks Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard in addition to his recent draft picks, Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown. He also knows that development takes many forms and some of them can be advanced by complementing a young core with the right veterans.
“To me, we have enough young guys,” Stefanski said. “We didn’t need more upside. We needed some guys to solidify our roster. That’s why we did it.”