Many of the top teams contending for the NBA title have a roster stocked with former Pistons players.
The defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers have a few and the Brooklyn Nets have a couple. The Los Angeles Clippers have three former Pistons, and the schedule presents consecutives games between the two teams.
Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris all started in Sunday’s game, which the Clippers pulled out, 131-124, and will be major pieces in the rematch on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena.
Morris had a spectacular game, with 33 points and some critical shots that kept the Clippers close when the Pistons looked to be pulling away. Jackson finished with 12 points and seven assists and Kennard 11 points.
The new-look Pistons have just one player remaining from last season’s roster and the three Clippers don’t have much of a connection to any of the current players, except Kennard, who was traded just before the season started.
Jackson had been one of the leaders in his five-plus seasons with the Pistons, but his ankle injuries hampered what could have been more success for those teams in the 2015-2020 squads, including the first two seasons under coach Dwane Casey.
“Health is the No. 1 thing. In the two years we were together, he wasn’t totally healthy, and it was something each year,” Casey said. “The first year was pretty good but one thing here, he’s in a perfect situation; there’s no pressure, he can play his game, he can shoot when he’s open and he can distribute the ball or he can go and spot up.
“Reggie’s grown as a young man and he’s matured tremendously. Having that group around him where he’s an important piece — instead of the hub — I think is the main thing and he’s played that role great.”
Casey said he and Jackson still stay in contact via text in the past year and that he’s proud of how Jackson has worked in his role as a starter or reserve point guard. It’s whatever the Clippers need from him, but now that he’s healthy, he’s become a more impactful player.
Kennard was traded to the Clippers in the deal that brought Saddiq Bey to the Pistons, so there’s little regret in making that deal, no matter the cost. Kennard had been a significant piece in the Pistons’ future, but with new general manager Troy Weaver, the Pistons decided to go in a different direction.
He made an impression during his time with the Pistons, but with the Clippers, he’s carving out a similar niche as a multifaceted scoring option who can play either off the bench or starting, when needed.
“Luke is a big-time scorer. (The trade) was a situation where he was improving and he was one of our better pick-and-roll players. I think more than anything else, it was probably more of a contractual situation, a business decision on his part and the team’s part,” Casey said. “He’s really good in the pick-and-rolls and he’s crafty. That’s one part of the game I think people overlook is his passing, and he’s a definite knock-down 3-point shooter.
“I know he’s shooting at a high clip right now and he’s hot, and also a great kid.”
More than just his production, he was a positive influence on the rest of the roster and someone that seems to fit what Weaver is trying to create with the current roster. Kennard got a big contract with the Clippers and that seems to be what forced the Pistons’ hand, avoiding a big payday in the midst of a rebuild.
Casey appreciates what Kennard contributed and what he brought as a teammate.
“He’s just a tremendous young man and a tremendous family. I got fond of Luke while he was there,” Casey said. “The business of basketball sometimes takes over from everything else, but Luke is going to have a tremendous career in this league for a long, long time.”