Pistons’ Derrick Rose, Joe Johnson are big names with something to prove
DETROIT — Blake Griffin was asked to recall the early stages of Derrick Rose’s career, when the dynamic point guard won an MVP for the Chicago Bulls at age 22.
“His run in Chicago was special,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to say it caught us off guard, because it was kind of a nice natural progression for him, but just everything he did was at a higher level than anybody else. He was great for the game of basketball — is great for the game of basketball.”
The Detroit Pistons are hoping Griffin was right to use the present tense after signing Rose as a free agent this offseason. Now 31, Rose is far removed from his days as an MVP, but the Pistons saw enough upside to bring him in. Detroit also added 38-year-old Joe Johnson.
The Pistons now have the top picks from the 2008 and 2009 drafts in Rose and Griffin. Rose, Griffin and Johnson have combined for 16 All-Star selections, although the last time they made it at the same time was in 2012. How this trio will do in 2019 is anyone’s guess.
Detroit’s moves were certainly interesting, and there were seemingly inevitable questions about whether the Pistons should double down on big names in their 30s by adding Carmelo Anthony. That did not happen, but Detroit has shown a willingness to be creative when trying to add talent.
The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, and they aren’t exactly a prime destination for the game’s top free agents. They also haven’t been bad enough lately to pick near the very top of the draft.
In 2018, they gave up a first-round pick in a huge deal for the often-injured Griffin. He was tremendous last season, joining LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players in the league averaging at least 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. The Pistons made the playoffs but were swept in the first round.
Now Rose arrives, fresh off a season in which he averaged 18 points for Minnesota. He appeared in only 51 games because of a variety of injuries, but that was more than double what he played the previous season for the Timberwolves and Cleveland. Last season was his second-highest scoring mark since tearing his left ACL in 2012. He also shot a career-best 37% from 3-point range.
“I’m more poised, I’m shooting the 3, I’m more efficient,” Rose said. “It’s just that people love to see the reckless way that I played, and the reckless way that I played led me to my injuries.”
The Pistons would love for Rose to be healthy and resurgent, the way Griffin was for most of last season. Rose often played off the ball last season, so it’s possible he can succeed alongside Detroit point guard Reggie Jackson. He can also be an option at the point if Jackson struggles to produce consistently.
While Rose is obviously an important part of the Pistons’ plans, Johnson’s future is murkier. He didn’t play in the NBA at all last season. He ended up in the BIG3 3-on-3 league — he said it was just something to do — where he was named MVP. Detroit acquired him last month.
“It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to play in the BIG3, so these people can see me.’ That wasn’t my purpose,” Johnson said. “I did it just for the love of the game, just to go out and have fun.”
Pistons executive Ed Stefanski said Johnson would be competing for a roster spot, but the team was happy to bring in the veteran with over 20,000 career points. Johnson has averaged 14.8 minutes and 3.8 points in four preseason games.
“Joe has all the traits you need to be a professional. That doesn’t hurt our team to have a guy like that. It doesn’t hurt the younger players to see the work ethic that Joe can bring to the table,” Johnson said. “Joe still, we think, has something left to prove. That’s what he wants to do.”
So Griffin, Rose and Johnson — accomplished players all — enter the season amid varying expectations. Griffin is the team’s undisputed star, Rose the intriguing newcomer and Johnson the former standout trying to extend his career.
All three sense an opportunity.
“I think the sky is the limit. You’ve got pretty much everything on this team,” Johnson said. “Good point guards, great bigs, some wings. And then you’ve got a great mixture of younger guys and older guys.”
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