Pistons ‘an amazing fit’ for Ellington after teamwork recruiting adds elite shooter
AUBURN HILLS – Ed Stefanski’s deliberation over whether to sell the last two months of Reggie Bullock’s service to the Pistons for two long-term assets would have been considerably eased had he known the other shoe about to drop.
The next day, Miami dumped salary by dealing Tyler Johnson to Phoenix for Ryan Anderson’s expiring contract with Wayne Ellington the collateral damage required to balance the deal. The rebuilding Suns had no interest in retaining Ellington and – ta-da – the Pistons won a pitched recruiting battle for the veteran sniper.
How they won that battle – over a host of contenders, including rumblings that franchises like Golden State, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Boston and others were poking around – is a story of teamwork from ownership to upper management to Dwane Casey.
“A lot of contending teams wanted me to come and give them that spark from behind the arc,” Ellington said after going through his first Pistons practice Sunday. “Detroit was an amazing fit. A great fit for me. I have great relationships here with a few people within the organization already. It came together and we felt like this is the perfect place for me.”
Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem was once Ellington’s agent before Tellem left the business to run the franchise for owner Tom Gores. Josh Bartlestein, Pistons vice president of strategy and chief of staff, is the son of Ellington’s current agent, Mark Bartlestein. They enlisted Gores’ services, too, and his phone conversation with Ellington’s wife, Safie, helped close the deal.
“Tom Gores did a heck of a thing,” Casey said. “She’s Lebanese and Tom is Lebanese. Whatever he said to recruit him worked. They spoke in Arabic. That was a positive for him. We’re just happy to have him as part of our program and add to the quality of guys we have.”
Ellington, 31, has played for seven franchises since being drafted in the first round by Minnesota in 2009. He was part of North Carolina’s 2009 NCAA title team, scoring 19 points in the championship rout of Michigan State at Ford Field, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. He’s been traded once in-season – in 2013 from Memphis to Cleveland for current Pistons teammate Jon Leuer – and all of that experience should help him hit the ground running with the Pistons, who went into Sunday’s play a half-game out of the No. 8 playoff spot in the East.
“Going through practice today and playing against the Pistons and playing against coach Casey over the years, I’m pretty familiar with his sets and some of his offense and what he wants defensively, so today was pretty easy for me,” Ellington said. “I picked up a lot of the plays pretty quick – great plays. They’re all set up for a lot of dribble handoffs and pin-downs for shooters coming off and two-man games with Blake (Griffin) and Zaza (Pachulia) and (Andre Drummond), so I feel like I fit in perfectly.”
Ellington could wind up sliding into Bullock’s vacated starting spot – filled by Langston Galloway in Friday’s win over New York – but whether he starts or comes off the bench, his addition gives Casey another needed weapon for a team that’s shown signs of a breakthrough. Over their last eight games – which coincides with Reggie Jackson’s turnaround – the Pistons are No. 5 in defense and No. 17 in offense. For the season, the Pistons are No. 9 in defense and No. 22 in offense.
“He’s such a smart player,” Casey said. “It won’t be hard to integrate him into what we’re doing. We plan to put him into probably all the things we did with Reggie Bullock. We intend to ease him in pretty quickly.”
The team the Pistons must first vault to put themselves into the playoff field is Miami, where Ellington played 164 games over the last three seasons.
“Extra intriguing,” Ellington said. Care to expand? “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Ellington will be a free agent after the season and the same forces that helped the Pistons win him over this time will remain in place then. But that’s a decision for another day.
“Coach Casey and within the organization, they value what I bring to the table,” Ellington said. “That was most important for me. This year, right now, is what I’m looking at. I’m worried about now – what we can do with the right there here and how I can help. I feel like we can take a leap. We’re right there, a half-game out of the playoffs, but I’m looking at the next spots in the playoffs, not just the eighth spot. I feel like we can get there.”