(Editor’s note: Fourth of a five-part series on the Pistons off-season’s significant personnel moves, the trade for Steve Blake. Coming Friday: the free-agent signing of Aron Baynes.)
The motivation for the Pistons in dealing for veteran point guard Steve Blake was insurance against a slow recovery for Brandon Jennings. But if Jennings is ready to go when the regular season rolls around – and that’s Stan Van Gundy’s fondest wish – then Blake doesn’t have an apparent role.
But Van Gundy’s most trusted adviser counseled him to expect Blake to land one, anyway.
“That’s one of the things my brother (Jeff) said when we talked about the trade,” Van Gundy grinned. “He said, ‘If I had to bet, I’d say he finds a way to get on the floor no matter what.’ That’s sort of what he’s always done. He’s found a way to play.”
Since playing a key role on Maryland’s 2002 NCAA title team – and before that, really, in a decorated high school career that included two Florida state titles – Blake has always been considered a player who helps teams win games.
“Steve’s been a guy that I’ve admired since he’s come into the league,” Van Gundy said. “Just a real hard-playing guy. I remember back in the Gilbert Arenas-Larry Hughes days in Washington when Steve was with that team and Gilbert fouling out of a game against us in the playoffs and Steve coming in and saying to my assistants, ‘This isn’t good.’ Because of the way he goes after it.”
Blake is the classic NBA journeyman, traded six times – three times by Portland alone – over a 12-year career. Eight of those seasons have ended in the playoffs, which reinforces the notion that Blake affects winning but even more so makes the point that good teams want Blake on their side.
Those 43 games of playoff experience – only Joel Anthony, with 63 games, brings more postseason experience to the Pistons – can’t hurt Van Gundy’s attempt to hasten the learning curve for the Pistons, either. Blake’s experience in general, in fact, is something that appealed to Van Gundy and made him an ideal candidate for the role he had in mind.
“The last two people we (signed) were Joel and Steve. It’s a young team,” Van Gundy said. “We really didn’t get any older. Our starting lineup will average under 25 years old. I’m not sure having all young guys is the best way to develop all those guys. I think we saw the benefits of Caron (Butler) and Joel and Anthony Tolliver last year. Besides what Steve can do on the floor, I think Steve, Joel and Anthony as our only guys over 30 give us veteran guys who are really, really solid pros and good people for those guys to watch and grow up around.”
Blake logged 19 minutes a game with the 51-win Trail Blazers last season, often playing alongside Damian Lillard. A career .385 3-point shooter, Blake could find himself getting minutes next to Reggie Jackson or Jennings as well as serving as a backup point guard.
“To be able to play 81 games and at 19 minutes a game, he’s still got it left in the tank,” Van Gundy said of Blake, 35. “He’s always competed hard. I think he’s a really, really good addition for us.”