Detroit to Michigan State to the Pistons, basketball takes Kalin Lucas home again

WASHINGTON – It wasn’t his NBA debut, but it had been so long between cups of coffee – sips, really – that Kalin Lucas probably felt the same rush of jangled emotions as he did the first time around, 50 months ago.

Lucas, signed by his hometown Pistons last week to a two-way contract, scored his first NBA points – a pair of free throws with 9:50 left in the second quarter, a little more than two minutes after checking into the game at point guard.

“It definitely means a lot,” said Lucas, a prep star at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s who spent four seasons at Michigan State, going undrafted after averaging 17 points for the Spartans in 2010-11. “At the same time, I still haven’t done anything yet, so my job is to come out and be aggressive and compete whenever my number’s called.”

When Ish Smith - who missed nearly six weeks with a torn adductor muscle before returning last week – felt tightness in the same area last week, the Pistons brought both Lucas and Isaiah Whitehead – also signed to a two-way deal last week – up from the Grand Rapids Drive. They made the trip to Washington and Lucas was put on the active roster for Monday’s game.

With the Pistons off to a sluggish start, falling behind by 12 points after the first quarter, Dwane Casey turned to Lucas to start the second quarter. In a 4:33 stint, Lucas scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and assisted on a basket. He missed his only shot, a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock was set to expire.

“I thought he was a scrapper,” Casey said. “I like the way he plays. He got 50-50 balls. He didn’t stand around and watch it bounce a couple of times before he made a move to go get it. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Until Monday, when he played 5:35, Lucas’ NBA career consisted of four games in a Memphis uniform in November 2014 and one appearance covering 5:32 in which he missed his only shot while recording one steal and one foul.

He’s bounced around between the NBA Development League (now Gatorade or G League) and playing internationally – Greece, Turkey, China, Israel. For players on the NBA bubble, the quandary comes down to playing for more money overseas or staying in the United States and trying to scratch out a living in the G League with the advantage of being immediately available and free of contractual hassles should the NBA come calling.

Lucas was playing for the Stockton Kings of the G League when the Pistons last week waived both Keenan Evans and Zach Lofton to sign him and Whitehead.

Lucas and Whitehead made their debuts in Grand Rapids on Friday and Lucas shined with 29 points, then both were at Little Caesars Arena though not active when the Pistons played Sacramento on Saturday.

Lucas got an inkling that he might be active for Monday’s holiday matinee on Sunday night, he said.

“They just told me to be ready,” he said. “I did all my pregame and they told me I was active, so I was ready.”

Lucas, 29, was a rising star at St. Mary’s when the Goin’ to Work Pistons won the 2004 NBA title. He’d have jumped at the chance to sign with any of the NBA’s 30 teams, but making it back to the NBA with the Pistons after more than a four-year absence made it all the more meaningful.

“To be back home – I’ve got a lot of family and friends. I’ve got a lot of support,” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing.”

As a player on a two-way contract, Lucas can spend 45 days with the Pistons before the G League calendar ends in late March and then limitless days with them.

“As far as right now, you’ve got to take it one game at a time,” Lucas said. “We’ve got to watch film, try to get better and get ready for the game on Wednesday. I definitely feel it’s a good fit for me. My job is to be ready, no matter if I’m playing 12 minutes or three minutes or whatever the case may be. My job is to be ready – and I’m definitely ready.”