It’s the beginning, not the end, for Christian Wood after making the cut to Pistons 15

Christian Wood
Christian Wood won the fight for the last spot on the Pistons roster over veteran Joe Johnson, but knows that nothing is permanent in the NBA.
Jesse D. Garrabrant (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Christian Wood might be just 24, but nobody on the Pistons roster knows better than him just how elusive the concept of stability can be in the rarefied air of the NBA.

Just in case, Dwane Casey is here to remind him.

“He better respond in an appropriate way,” Casey said after Tuesday’s practice – the eve of the regular-season opener at Indiana, a day after Wood won the battle for the final roster spot. “It’s a fine line in this league. The jury is still there. That’s why he’s got to make sure he stays on his Ps and Qs. I have all the confidence in the world he will.”

Wood’s willowy frame and rare skills for a player of his size have always opened doors for him, but they’ve closed every time and in short order over the four years since he went undrafted following two years at UNLV that showed his promise – and his shortcomings.

He’s suited up for Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans, putting up numbers in limited opportunities and dazzling during his time in the G League. Along the way, he picked up a hard-to-shake reputation for less than ideal professionalism.

“Stay hungry, stay with that chip on his shoulder,” Casey said of the marching orders to Wood. “I thought he had that chip on his shoulder (through training camp). He wasn’t late. He was a professional. He was mature and he was consistent. Those were the questions about Christian.”

He’d love to sink roots with the Pistons, appreciative of the chance in front of him and buoyed by the confidence Casey has displayed in his future.

It was Casey, appropriately, who informed Wood on Monday afternoon that he’d cleared his first hurdle, winning a roster battle that came down to him and 17-year veteran Joe Johnson. Johnson’s Achilles tendon soreness, Casey said, essentially tipped the scales to Wood.

“Coach Casey brought me into the office and he told me,” said Wood, who told Casey he appreciated the opportunity and wouldn’t let him down. “He told me he was fighting for me. I know Joe had a good relationship with the front office, so they had a tough decision. Joe’s a good guy. He helped me out. I know it was a hard decision for them and I’m grateful for it.”

Casey found the idea of Johnson’s presence and vast experience in game-winning situations over his career intoxicating, but ultimately Wood’s youth, potential and availability won out. Coaches of Casey’s tenure grow accustomed to delivering tough news to young players who fall on the wrong side of the cut line, but it’s rare to have to break the news to a player of Johnson’s stature.

“Joe’s a Hall of Famer in my book,” Casey said. “One of the toughest conversations I’ve had as a coach. Once he gets his (Achilles) soreness out, he’s still ready to play in the NBA. But we’re in a situation where we just needed production right now. He’s still an NBA player and he’ll be back in the league at some point.”

Wood’s 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in preseason were second only to Andre Drummond’s 14.8 and 10.3 despite the fact 10 players averaged more minutes than his 17. He can play both power positions and waiving Wood would have left the Pistons with only Drummond, Blake Griffin, Thon Maker and Markieff Morris at those spots.

Griffin, dealing with hamstring soreness for the past 10 days, was only a very limited participant in Tuesday’s practice, Casey said, and his status for the opener is unclear. Whether Wood gave anything away regarding Griffin’s availability for Wednesday or was talking more broadly, he mentioned the possibility of becoming a situational starter when asked about his position on the team.

“I have a great opportunity with Casey, a great opportunity to get backup minutes with Dre,” he said. “Blake’s going to be on load management this year, so I’ve got the opportunity to play and possibly start, so I’m ready for that.”

In any case – start or come off the bench, in the rotation or outside of it – Wood won’t be able to escape the reality that nothing beyond the present is guaranteed, quite literally for a player without a fully guaranteed contract.

“It’s not the end at all,” he said. “I’m still on a non-guaranteed contract. I want to try to get paid. My thing is I’m going to come in and try to do everything 100 percent like I was doing before. That’s not going to stop.”

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