‘He’s the Blake of old’ – Casey gets a fully healthy Rose, Griffin to open Pistons camp

Much of what the Pistons will become is tied to the waves of players – including lottery pick Killian Hayes – Troy Weaver acquired over a dizzying week of November. Much of what they will be this season is tied to the fates of their two decorated stars, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.

Based on what Dwane Casey has seen of them so far in training camp, the extended time off both were provided due to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic gives the Pistons the best versions of Griffin and Rose.

Both have been full participants in drills and scrimmages, Casey said.

“(Griffin) hasn’t taken a play off or a possession off or a drill off,” Casey said. “He’s looking good. All the guys are getting their sea legs under them, but he’s the Blake of old, making plays.”

Griffin last played nearly a year ago, Dec. 28, in a loss at San Antonio, when it became clear that the surgically repaired left knee – stemming from an injury that sidelined Griffin for the first two games of the 2019 playoffs – needed further addressing. Griffin ultimately underwent a clean-up procedure in early January and used the prolonged off-season to rebuild strength in the leg.

He expressed confidence in the state of his recovery prior to training camp and early returns give Casey peace of mind that he’ll have the anchor of his starting unit ready to assume a familiar role when the Pistons open the season Dec. 23.

“He did a lot of work this summer to strengthen his legs,” Casey said. “He’s back to being the Blake of old. We’re excited about that. We know he’s been putting in the work. All the naysayers, all of that stuff, he’s back to being the Blake of old.”

Rose’s 2019-20 season also ended prior to the March 11 suspension as he’d suffered a sprained ankle March 1 and was in the process of rehabilitating when the NBA pulled the plug. Rose, like Griffin, has a green light for training camp.

“We’re going to two-a-days (Monday night) and both guys are a go,” Casey said. “That’s the exciting part. You have those two players back and contributing and the younger group, it’s a good mixture.”

Despite the remarkable turnover of the roster – there will be 11 new players among the final 15 roster spots on opening night – Casey can bank on at least one measure of continuity in the fact that he has Griffin to build the starting unit around and Rose as the alpha dog of the bench unit.

Beyond that, Casey and Weaver are banking on the utter professionalism of Griffin and Rose to impart lessons to a roster that includes 13 players among the 20 in camp who are 24 or younger, including three teens.

Griffin invited Saddiq Bey, the 19th pick in last month’s draft, to work out with him in Los Angeles before camp opened. Killian Hayes said Sunday that Rose has pulled him aside to pass along helpful pointers a day after Rose said it was part of his mission to help the rookie lottery pick’s orientation to the NBA. Casey cited them and a few other Pistons veterans as already going out of their way to help the newcomers.

“It’s natural for Blake to be a leader,” he said. “Saddiq went out and spent time with him in L.A., which was a very positive thing. You hear Derrick on the court talking to the younger players, Killian specifically. You hear Wayne Ellington’s voice keeping everybody pumped up. When it comes from another player, it has a huge impact. Mason Plumlee was mentored by Kevin Garnett, who loves Mason. He’s a natural for the young guys. We have it all around the board and it’s a good thing for our organization.”

It’s an organization whose future might belong to Hayes, Bey and all those under 20-somethings populating the new Pistons practice facility. The present still orbits around Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, who appear poised to put the best versions of themselves on display for all the younger players who’ll follow them to emulate.