| The Detroit News
After missing almost three months because of knee tendinitis, Luke Kennard was getting close to making his return to the court.
The Pistons had played in Philadelphia and Kennard was starting to ramp up his individual work and preparing to get back to full team scrimmages.
Then the pandemic happened.
His three-month absence has turned into a full nine-month hiatus. Although his knees are feeling better, he hasn’t been able to do any five-on-five workouts with the team because of league restrictions at the practice facility.
As the Pistons have gotten into their team workouts this week during the second phase of their in-market minicamp, Kennard is playing at full speed in group work for the first time since December.
It’s been worth the wait.
“It’s great. We’ve had phases of how this kind of went down and we just did some individual work (last week) and we could kind of see each other from different sides of the court,” Kennard said. “But to be actually practicing together doing some group workouts, I didn’t have any expectations of when we would be able to do something like this again, so it’s really good to see.
“For myself, I haven’t really had live-action basketball since December. It’s a long time. So, I was really looking forward to it. This is really my chance to see how I’m feeling, how my body has changed and has just gotten better. It’s been a good first few days and I’m just going to take it day by day and get better.”
For the 28 games that Kennard did play, he showed a bigger sample size of what the Pistons thought would become the norm, with 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists, with a sizzling 40% shooting from beyond the arc. None of that has been in question — but staying healthy has been the biggest hurdle for Kennard to clear.
With the changes the Pistons made last season in trading Andre Drummond, their longest-tenured player, and buying out the final year of Reggie Jackson’s contract, it made for a surprising revelation.
Luke Kennard, with only three years under his belt, is the longest-tenured player remaining.
“Hearing that line, it does seem crazy. … It’s also a thing of growth or maturity just because I know I have to be more of a leader this year,” Kennard said. “I’m going into my fourth year, so it’s a really big year for me; it’s a really big year for this team to continue to take steps forward.
“But yeah, longest-tenured Piston? It’s pretty crazy to think about, but I kind of have to own up to it and really believe that I’m one of the older guys on the team and I’ve got to help lead us this year.”
Kennard, 24, said that already, he’s sought to take on the role of one of the vocal leaders in the voluntary minicamp. With veterans Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin not attending, it’s put more onus on the young players to develop their own leaders and to show the growth they’ve made on and off the court in the six months since they all played together.
It’s a new role for Kennard, who will carry a bigger load of the offense next season, but building a leadership component won’t hurt, either. Getting some practice with the young players in camp is a good start.
“They’re learning; they’re working hard. Everybody’s competing. We’ve been competing hard just the first couple of days and I know guys might be a little tired right now, but we’re going to continue to work,” Kennard said. “It’s just a short period of time that we have together right now and we’re going to make most of it.”