New­est Pis­ton Elling­ton is all in

Guard wants be part of team’s play­off push

The Detroit News - - SPORTS - BY ROD BEARD The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Wayne Elling­ton was the last player on the prac­tice court fol­low­ing his first Pis­tons prac­tice. He didn’t look to be out of place in try­ing to get in­te­grated quickly with his new team, fit­ting right in dur­ing some of the drills.

Elling­ton, who signed Sat­ur­day with the Pis­tons as a cov­eted free agent af­ter be­ing waived by the Phoenix Suns this week, is look­ing to hit the ground run­ning in his ex­pected de­but on Mon­day, when the Pis­tons face the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards at Lit­tle Cae­sars Arena.

He’s a wel­come ad­di­tion for the Pis­tons, who are among the league’s worst teams in 3-point shoot­ing. Af­ter trad­ing Reg­gie Bul­lock, their best 3-point shooter, there was a void and Elling­ton helps; he is hit­ting 37 per­cent from be­yond the arc this sea­son.

Elling­ton also brings play­off ex­pe­ri­ence and a veteran pres­ence who will ben­e­fit the Pis­tons (25-29) as they make a run toward the post­sea­son in the fi­nal 28 games. That gives him an ad­van­tage in try­ing to ac­cli­mate quickly to coach Dwane Casey’s sys­tem.

“He’s such a smart player and he un­der­stands cer­tain things we’re do­ing and how he’s go­ing to get his shot, so it won’t be hard to in­te­grate him into what we’re do­ing,” Casey said af­ter Sun­day’s prac­tice. “We plan to put him into the things we did with Reg­gie Bul­lock. The main thing is un­der-

“The great­est thing about this whole deal is com­pe­ti­tion,” Gar­den­hire said last month at TigerFest. “We’ve got com­pe­ti­tion now. And if you are go­ing to be good, you need to have that. Last year, we were like, ‘Who the heck are we go­ing to keep out this group?’

“This year, it’s more like, ‘How are we go­ing to send this guy down?’”

There will be tough de­ci­sions to be made at sev­eral po­si­tions, and that, for a young team in the se­cond year of a re­build, is a pos­i­tive.

What fol­lows is a break­down of some of the more in­trigu­ing ros­ter bat­tles this spring.

stand­ing the ter­mi­nol­ogy, so we can ease him in pretty quickly.”

Ad­ding Elling­ton for the re­main­der of the sea­son af­ter waiv­ing Henry El­len­son gives the Pis­tons a needed scorer and perime­ter threat. Al­though he’ll be a free agent this sum­mer, Elling­ton’s fo­cus isn’t on the long term right now; it’s about mak­ing a play­off push.

“It’s (about) be­ing able to help now. Coach Casey and the or­ga­ni­za­tion value what I bring to the table; that’s what’s most valu­able to me — this year, right now, is what I’m look­ing at,” Elling­ton said. “This sum­mer is this sum­mer and I’m wor­ried about now and what we can do with this team right here and how I can help. We can take a leap; we’re right there and a half-game out of the play­offs. I’m look­ing to the next spot, not just the eighth spot — we can get there.”

Af­ter he was waived and be­came a free agent, Elling­ton was a cov­eted tar­get on the buy­out mar­ket fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s NBA trade dead­line. He fielded sev­eral of­fers and al­though the Pis­tons didn’t have much cap space, he saw a prime op­por­tu­nity for play­ing time and the chance to help them get to the play­offs as a big­ger ap­peal.

“(There were) a lot of teams, with dif­fer­ent roles and things,” he said. “I don’t know ex­actly the num­ber, but my agent, Mark Bar­tel­stein, com­mu­ni­cated with a lot of teams.”

With the two trades the Pis­tons made be­fore the dead­line, they were able to cre­ate enough cap space to bring in Elling­ton. Along with Svi Mykhail­iuk and Thon Maker, who were added in sep­a­rate trades, the Pis­tons have a new-look re­serve unit.

Elling­ton, 31, who is in his 10th sea­son, played 25 games this year for the Mi­ami Heat — who hap­pen to be a half-game ahead of the Pis­tons for the fi­nal play­off spot in the East. It’s an ad­di­tion to the win­ning cul­ture Casey and the new front of­fice are look­ing to bring.

“Char­ac­ter-wise, he’s about win­ning; he’s from a win­ning pro­gram. That’s the most im­por­tant thing: you’re bring­ing guys in who fit what you’re try­ing to do, who are se­ri­ous about

win­ning and play with a pure heart. You’ll take as many of those as you can get,” Casey said. “He’s a proven win­ner who’s been in mul­ti­ple play­off sit­u­a­tions. The char­ac­ter part, you can’t overem­pha­size guys who are se­ri­ous about win­ning.”

As he gets his bear­ings in two games this week, Elling­ton will have prac­tice time af­ter the All­Star break next week to get a bet­ter rap­port with Blake Grif­fin and the rest of his new team­mates. The pair worked to­gether some at the end of prac­tice, which might sug­gest that Elling­ton might join the starters soon.

“This is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion and in go­ing through prac­tice and play­ing the Pis­tons and coach Casey over the years, I’m pretty fa­mil­iar with some of his sets and of­fense and what he wants de­fen­sively,” Elling­ton said. “To­day was pretty easy for me and I picked up on the plays pretty quickly.

“I’m a stu­dent right now and learn­ing ev­ery­thing. I al­ready went through some stuff with Blake at the end of prac­tice. We’ll just con­tinue to learn how we can help each other and I can help him a lot. He de­mands a lot of at­ten­tion so a guy like me can take a lit­tle of that off him.”

Elling­ton has played in just five games since Christ­mas, but he said that he has main­tained his ex­er­cise reg­i­men and stayed in shape.

“If you know any­thing about the Heat, they de­mand a strict weight and body-fat pro­gram. I’m ready,” he said. “I stayed with my con­di­tion­ing and got a lot of work in. There’s noth­ing to sim­u­late game reps but I did what I could to sim­u­late that.”

Rob Foldy/Getty Im­ages

Right-han­der Spencer Turn­bull showed enough in a Septem­ber call-up that he could be earn a spot start­ing ro­ta­tion at some point dur­ing the sea­son.

Niko Goodrum ideally is suited for a su­per-util­ity role with the Tigers, but might open as the Tigers’ start­ing se­cond base­man.

Wayne Elling­ton is a pend­ing free agent but is com­mit­ted to get­ting Pis­tons to play­offs this sea­son.

Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News

“Char­ac­ter-wise, he’s about win­ning; he’s from a win­ning pro­gram,” says Pis­tons coach Dwane Casey about Wayne Elling­ton.

Wil­fredo Lee/As­so­ci­ated Press

Wayne Elling­ton is a ca­reer 38-per­cent shooter from 3-point range.

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