It wasn’t until his fourth NBA season that Andre Drummond ceded the title of “youngest Pistons player” to Stanley Johnson. Having turned 23 last month, he’s still the third-youngest player on the roster, 19-year-old Henry Ellenson replacing Johnson as the youngest this season.
But Drummond is also the longest-tenured Pistons player – along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one of just two remaining from the roster Stan Van Gundy inherited in May 2014 – at four seasons and he’s played for four head coaches.
“I feel like an old man,” he said, shaking his head and smiling on the eve of his fifth training camp, which starts Tuesday. “Looking around and seeing all these changes and guys that are missing, it’s crazy.”
Crazy in a good way, though. Drummond is in the best place of his career, coming to camp in the best shape of his life and blessed with the security of a five-year maximum contract signed in July. There was no drama in Drummond’s return to the Pistons after owner Tom Gores declared well ahead of time that Drummond was “a max player,” but Drummond still felt a surge of emotions when he made it official.
“For me, it was a new chapter in my life and my NBA career,” he said. “I signed a five-year deal, so I’m here for the long haul and I’m excited to be here. Detroit is now my home and I’m ready to embrace it and try to bring great things to this city.”
Drummond has had a revolving door of players around him, but with last February’s trade for Tobias Harris, the drafting of Ellenson and the free-agent signings of Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic, the Pistons have depth and flexibility they haven’t enjoyed since their run of seven straight 50-win seasons was in progress from 2002-08.
If the team successfully retains Caldwell-Pope – potentially a restricted free agent next July if an extension isn’t reached by Oct. 31 – they’ll have all of their rotation players tied up for at least the next three seasons with the exception of Aron Baynes, who can opt out of his deal next summer. That possibility precipitated the signing of Marjanovic, giving the Pistons a plug-in backup to Drummond already.
With a degree of certainty around him he’s never enjoyed, Drummond is eager to get rolling with a team that hiked its win total by 12 games last year over 2014-15.
“I think this is it for us. I think we have a great core,” Drummond said. “Our starting five is probably one of the youngest in the league. Our bench is actually very young, as well. The group of guys we’ve got here is great.”
Drummond made his first All-Star team last season and won the rebounding title. He and Reggie Jackson, the pair at the heart of Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll attack, have positioned themselves as team leaders. Signing his new contract will make Drummond that much more comfortable a leader.
“Once I signed my name on that line, not only did it solidify that I’ve put a lot of work in to get to this point, but it shows that this team is under my wing now,” he said. “I’ve been here the longest. I’ve been through the ups and downs. I’ve been through trades, having different coaches, everything under the sun. Now being in the playoff run and having a chance to have a taste of the playoffs was great, so my career so far has been a lot of ups and downs but right now it’s on the verge of going up.”
How high up can it go? How fast? What would make for a successful season?
“I can’t even put my finger on it,” he said. “I just want to play as hard as I can. I know my teammates are ready to play hard and win as many games as possible. If you set a mark, it’s tough to reach because you’re going to be thinking about it so much. For us, it’s just trying to go out there and win as many games as possible and go back to the playoffs.”
His personal goals are similarly simple – play hard and let the results happen. He spent the bulk of his summer working at the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based P3 training facility for a second straight year and says he’s in the best shape of his life, having “shed about 20 pounds.”
“I’m going to win the rebounding crown again. I’m going for it – no doubt about it. Try to get back to the All-Star game again and try to bring another guy with me, Reggie or (Caldwell-Pope) or Marcus (Morris) or Tobias. Be able to stay in games longer, knowing I can be fouled and shoot the shot. Really just pushing my teammates to be great. I’m really excited for everybody. This is a huge year for (Caldwell-Pope), a huge year for Reggie to come back and be a better player. Tobias, another year for him to come back and show the league why he belongs on this team, and Marcus, he continues to prove everybody wrong – that he is a hell of a player.”
Drummond expects a more consistent, deeper bench this year, one likelier to preserve and extend the leads his starting unit more often than not produced last season.
“No knock on the guys that were previously here – I would love to still play with them and for them to still be here – but the guys we have now, it’s the most talented bench we’ve had. I’m excited. Not only do they play hard, but they jell well with each other already. I’m just excited for the season all the way around.”