AUBURN HILLS – It’s been nearly six years since Jameer Nelson last played for Stan Van Gundy, but not much has changed.
“Still the same Stan,” Nelson grinned after Saturday’s Pistons practice, his first since Thursday’s trade with Chicago gave Van Gundy some injury insurance at point guard until Reggie Jackson returns. “He’s saying the same things about the same people in the same positions. He’s a hell of a coach. His preparation is, to me, probably the best I’ve seen. Not taking away from anybody else, but he’s a workhorse. It shows in his effort to get guys ready to play.”
Nelson was 25 and in his fourth NBA season when Van Gundy took over in Orlando 11 years ago. He sees the haranguing he took then through a different lens today.
“A lot of things you complain about, you miss,” he said. “The passion that he has for the game, his preparation, his willingness to teach you. You realize he’s doing all that yelling and screaming, it’s because he wants to win. He wants to win probably more than anybody that I’ve been around and he’s put that in myself and all his players if you want to take that from him. It’s harder for younger guys to understand that and it was for my first year, but after that he helped me become who I am.”
Their reunion could have come sooner, Nelson said, but he chose Denver in free agency in the summer of 2015, likely because he saw a greater opportunity there with Reggie Jackson entrenched as the starter in Detroit. When New Orleans included Nelson in last week’s trade to Chicago for Nikola Mirotic, Nelson and Bulls management quickly agreed that given their current circumstances they weren’t a match.
“With the direction they’re going in, where I’m at in my career, I wanted to go to a team that was making a playoff push or in the playoffs,” he said. “It wasn’t a shock to me that I got traded.”
Nelson still had a spot in New Orleans’ rotation, playing 21 minutes a game and averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 assists while shooting .364 from the 3-point line, near his career average of .369. He started 39 games for Denver a year ago, averaging 9.2 points and 5.1 assists.
Van Gundy said Friday that Nelson isn’t going to be rushed into a rotation that includes Ish Smith as the starter and Langston Galloway – like Nelson, a product of St. Joseph’s – behind him currently with Dwight Buycks available, as well. But with Jackson likely to miss another three weeks or more, Van Gundy saw an opportunity to add a veteran who could be trusted with rotation minutes if Smith were to miss any time.
“I don’t have any expectations,” Nelson said, “other than come in and work every day, try to help the team get better, try to help Stan with the guys and other coaches with the team. Just mentorship and leadership. But if he puts me in the game, I’m going to play. If not, I’m going to be the best teammate like I’ve always been.”
How good a teammate? Nelson every summer rents a gym near his native Philadelphia home so he and teammates – or the dozens of various acquaintances he’s made over a 14-year NBA career – have a place to work out. Among the participants last summer: Galloway.
“We worked out a little bit. He came and worked out with me for a few days,” Nelson said. “We were always cordial, always talked. He’s a great dude. I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s a pro’s pro and a hard worker, so it’ll be fun. It’s going to be a fun run. We’ve got I don’t know how many games left, but we can make a push and get into the playoffs and do some things well if we get there.”
Nelson also crossed paths with Smith, who spent parts of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons in Orlando.
“He’s turned out to be a great player,” he said. “People can say what they want about Ish – he can’t do this, he can’t do that – he’s proven everybody wrong. It’s always going to be something that somebody doesn’t like about you. What I like about him is he sees right past that and that’s what makes him good. He sticks with what he knows.”
Nelson will have an easy entrée into his post-playing days should he decide to coach or get on a management path. But he’s not quite there yet.
“That’s a little premature – I’m still playing,” he said. “But I’m never going to shut a door or turn down an opportunity to be around the game of basketball. This is something that I love and I feel like I have a lot to give back to the game. I love it. I love being around it. My family loves being around it. I’ve developed so many great relationships with so many guys in terms of coaches and players, equipment managers. I was telling people the other day, that’s what I missed that year we had the lockout. It’s just one of those things. Eventually, when that bridge comes, I’ll cross it.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to have a familiar face yelling at him again.
“Dream come true,” he laughed.