LAS VEGAS — After signing his rookie extension, Isaiah Stewart understands he’s still only getting started.
The 6-foot-8 big, now entering his fourth season, inked a four-year rookie extension worth up to $64 million on Monday. The contract is a testament not only to what he has accomplished through three seasons, but to what he and the Detroit Pistons believe he will become as the team attempts to transition from rebuilding to competing.
Stewart is with the team in Las Vegas for Summer League, but he’s a veteran this time around. He sat on the sideline during the team’s first two games, clapping for his teammates after good plays and screaming words of advice after mistakes. He in the midst of an ongoing shift from center to power forward, but those developmental minutes will come during the season, having graduated from the Summer League stage of his career.
The Free Press caught up with Stewart on Tuesday to discuss his new extension, first impressions of Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser and his goals for Year 4. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
First off, congrats. How does it feel to be able to get that extension locked in and secure your future with the organization?
“It feels good. It’s a blessing. I’m thankful and I’m just ready to continue to work and continue to get better. ”
How important was it for you to get the extension locked in this offseason, rather than go into restricted free agency a year from now?
“I feel it was important to me to get it locked in and know that I am a Detroit Piston for those years. It just feels great overall. It was important for me just because I know I’ve worked hard over the years just to get to this moment and get to this point, so I’m thankful that it was able to happen and thanks to Tom Gores, Troy (Weaver), Arn (Tellem), the whole front office for believing in me.”
You weren’t able to play in Summer League in 2021 because of your ankle injury, but you did play last year. How different has it been now being in Las Vegas a third time, in more of a veteran role, and you’re here supporting the guys and sitting with Cade on the sideline? How different has this trip been for you?
“It feels different for sure, but to be honest, watching some of the games, especially the last game, it gave me an urge that I wanted to go out there and play with those guys. A lot of trash talk and stuff. I’m a competitor, so sometimes watching those things, it’s hard for me. But at the end of the day, I was happy I got a chance to be there and support the guys.”
What have you seen from Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser?
“Dogs. They’ve definitely got some dog in them. You see it with Marcus on defense. Obviously his ability to score the ball. Ausar, you can tell he’s a very smart player. High IQ. He wants to play defense. He’s not a selfish player at all, he’s always trying to connect the team and connect the dots. I’m a fan of his game and what I’ve seen so far, I’m excited to play with him. You can tell he knows how to play the game the right way.”
At the end of last season, Weaver said your competitive spirit drove the team, and you missing time with your injury was as bad as Cade Cunningham being out. What did you learn about yourself last season, as far as stepping into a leadership role and filling that void?
“Just how much more work I have to put in. Sitting, watching the game, not being able to play but just seeing just how much more work I have to put in, and just us as a team to get to success. It’s not going to just happen magically, you actually have to put the work in. I feel like a lot of the guys are putting that work in this offseason. I’m looking forward to it.”
When did you begin to feel comfortable being that voice in the locker room, and emotional leader?
“I’m not sure, it just kinda naturally happened. I’m a guy that just lets my work show, and then anything I say, I feel like I have to say. The guys listen because they know I’m not someone that just talks, I’m someone that can back it up with my work. I think they respect me because I work hard, and stuff like that.”
After your first full season playing power forward, what was your takeaway as far as what went right and what you need to hone in on?
“How much more I have to work on. First year playing the four, continue to build off of it, continue to learn from my mistakes. I’m looking forward to it. I know it’s something that I can do. I know it’s something that’s going to take a lot of people by surprise with the things that I’m going to show that I can do at the four. I’m just looking forward to it.”
What did you prioritize this offseason as you continue to make that transition?
“Keeping it simple. Tightening my ball-handling, obviously shooting. Continuing to be a better shooter. And reading drives, reading closeouts and just being patient.”
Is there a certain amount of jumpers you’re getting up per day?
“I’m getting up a lot of jumpers per day. Like … a lot. I’ve been working hard. A lot of jumpers, a lot. And it’s a system every day. Trust, and you remove doubts with reps. I have a lot of reps under my belt, so I’m just looking forward to it.”
What are your first impressions of the new coaching staff?
“They’re all great. I’m super-excited to be coached by each and every one of them, and I can’t wait. They all have a great spirit about them and they just want to help us get better in any way. I’m excited to work with them.”
What’s your charge now, with your future locked in, as far as what you want to accomplish next season?
“Just continuing to be the best version of myself I can be. Every year I’ve shown I always bring something to the table, always come back better and I always bring something new to the table. Whatever that is this year, I’m sure it’ll show because I put the work in. I’m sure my work will show, as it does every offseason. I’m looking forward to whatever Monty (Williams) and the staff got and however I can contribute to the team. I really don’t got no personal goals, other than defensively being a pest, being the best switch player out there.”
The team talked about the 17-win record last season not being representative of the group. Just with the conversations you’ve had with your teammates, where is the team at as far as putting that in the past?
“It ain’t going to happen easy and it ain’t going to happen just because all of us are back. We’re all going to buy in, and we’re all going to pour ourselves into each other. I’m sure it’ll show like that. I don’t want to predict anything, but one thing I know is, we’re going to compete, we’re going to compete hard and play as a unit.”