Detroit — As the Pistons went down to the wire with the Orlando Magic on Thursday, a familiar face for both teams sat courtside to soak up the competitive atmosphere.
R.J. Hampton, a third-year guard who was waived by the Magic two days earlier, was in attendance to watch his past meet his future. Moments after Wendell Carter Jr.’s buzzer-beating tip-in went through the basket to lift Orlando past Detroit, Hampton’s signing with the Pistons was made official.
It was another case of a low-risk, high-reward transaction for general manager Troy Weaver, who recently has taken chances on several young lottery picks like Marvin Bagley III, James Wiseman and Kevin Knox II. Hampton made an earlier-than-expected debut for the Pistons on Saturday against the Toronto Raptors without even practicing with the team. His brief four minutes on the court were his first significant amount of playing time since Jan. 4.
Speaking to the media for the first time after his debut, Hampton said he thinks he has a great opportunity to help the Pistons, who worked him out in Memphis ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft.
“I look at the Pistons as a fine organization,” Hampton said, “somewhere where people are valued, people can play their game and really come into their roles. I feel like when I was talking with my agent, this was a great spot. He likes the organization. He likes Coach (Dwane) Casey and Mr. Weaver. A lot of factors went into that, but I’ve like the Pistons for a long time, even when I was in the draft.”
Hampton was selected with the 24th overall pick in the 2020 draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who traded his draft rights to the Denver Nuggets. He played the first 25 games of his rookie year with the Nuggets until he was traded to Orlando on March 25, 2020.
A 6-foot-4 guard, Hampton grew up in Dallas with fellow Pistons star Cade Cunningham, someone he’s known since childhood. He was a consensus five-star recruit out of Montverde Academy (Florida), but skipped college to play internationally in Australia with the New Zealand Breakers of the National Basketball League.
Casey said he sees Hampton as a player who can be inserted at either guard spot and cites his speed and athleticism as strengths.
“I feel like I can play the one if I need to, or play the two,” Hampton said. “I think I’m a guy that can shoot the ball, is athletic, and I take pride on the defensive end. Whenever I’m in there, I’m always going to give 110% energy because that’s what everybody here expects.
“But I always feel like my attitude, effort and defensive ability has never changed, even in Orlando, I was guarding some of the best players each night last year when I was playing. That’s something that once I get this wind back and get my feet under me, that I look to bring and that’s one of the elite skills I’ll have.”
Hampton also revealed he thought he would be selected by the Pistons on draft night, but Weaver brought Killian Hayes (No.7), Isaiah Stewart (No. 16) and Saddiq Bey (No. 19) to Detroit. One of Hampton’s first interactions after Thursday’s game centered around the full-circle moment.
“Like he told me yesterday, ‘You never know when you’re going to see someone again,’” Hampton said. “I’m here and I’m excited.”
Hampton fell out of the rotation in Orlando as Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony became regulars at the guard position. Before the game against Detroit began, Hampton shook hands and embraced his former teammates. He said Orlando waited until he found a new team before he was released.
“I think it was kind of a collective thing between me and Orlando,” he said. “We really wanted to find a spot before they ended up waiving me and as soon as I was waived, I kind of knew where I was going. Fortunately, it worked out that the Pistons were playing in Orlando. I was waived. I hadn’t signed yet, so I said, ‘Why not come watch my old team and my new team play,’ and I got on the plane last night and I’m here.”
Pistons at Hornets
▶ Tipoff: 7 Monday, Spectrum Center, Charlotte, North Carolina
▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
▶ Outlook: The Pistons will look to snap a four-game losing streak at Charlotte on Monday. Detroit forward Bojan Bogdanovic (bilateral Achilles tendinopathy) and Isaiah Stewart (right hip soreness) are questionable, while Jalen Duren will miss his second straight game due to bilateral ankle soreness.