The Detroit Pistons might have finished with the worst record in the NBA and flirted with the worst season in franchise history, but some former members just won a freaking NBA Title. And I couldn’t be happier for them.
Bruce Brown, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith experienced some high highs and some truly low lows while donning the red, white and blue in Detroit. And DeAndre Jordan, well, he had a nice little $7.8 million cap hit for the Pistons despite never suiting up for the team.
Your mileage may vary, but I’m ranking these players based on how happy I am for them.
1. Ish Smith
Career with Pistons: 9.8 points, 4.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds
2023-23 season with Nuggets: 2.5 points, 2.3 assists, 1.3 rebounds
One of the nicest guys in the NBA just one an NBA Title. Awesome. One of the unlikeliest 13-year veterans just won a title. Even better. Ish Smith’s three-year run with Detroit from 2016-19 represent the longest tenure of his career spanning those 13 seasons and 13 franchises. More than one-third of his career minutes fell in those three seasons for the Pistons, and he delivered everything promised in Detroit and more. He didn’t make more than $1 million in a season until his sixth year in the league. Then Detroit gave him some financial security and a home with a three-year, $18 million contract. His nomadic ways have continued since leaving the Pistons, but I will always root for him.
2. Bruce Brown
Career with the Pistons: 6.3 points, 2.4 assists, 3.5 rebounds
2022-23 season with Nuggets: 11.5 points, 3.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds
One could make an argument that between 2013 (KCP) and 2021 (Cade Cunningham), Bruce Brown was the single best draft pick of the Detroit Pistons. This depends on your thoughts on Spencer Dinwiddie and Luke Kennard, but there is no doubting that Brown has carved out a nice little NBA career for himself. That might say more about the Pistons than it does Brown’s talent, but I would be wary of putting a cap on Brown. He’s always making a difference, and he keeps getting better.
Drafted with the 42nd pick in 2018, Brown quickly became a fan favorite with his tenacious defense and attacking style. The Pistons didn’t really know what to do with Brown as it suffered from a lack of talent up and down the roster. He wasn’t quite a point guard, wasn’t quite an off guard, and he didn’t have the size to play long stretches at the wing if he had to share the floor with other non-shooters (something Detroit has had in spades the past decade).
Eventually, he was given away to Brooklyn, and on a more talent team, Brown was able to blossom. He started playing free safety on defense, and sometimes it was hard to say whether he was playing point guard or center in some of those Nets lineups. Kevin Durant reportedly wasn’t interested in Brown returning to Brooklyn, and so he caught on with Denver. Thank the lord for that, because he was able to play a career-high 80 games and score a career-high 11.5 points. He also played versatile defense and sported a near 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has a player option and now the question is what is next for Brown?
You could argue Detroit blew it by giving away a talented player. In fact, many do. Constantly. Me? I’m just happy Brown was able to find a lineup where he was able to have his strengths highlighted and his weaknesses minimized, all while continuing to build a stronger skillset as a passer and spot-up shooter.
3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Career with Pistons: 11.7 points, 1.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds
2022-23 season with Nuggets: 10.8 points, 2.4 assists, 2.7 rebounds
Man, KCP. First, he got paid. He’s made nearly $90 million in his career and only about $10 million of that came on his rookie-scale four-year deal in Detroit. And now he has two rings — one as a pivotal member of the Los Angeles Lakers and another as a pivotal member of the Denver Nuggets.
The talent was always there with KCP, but playing alongside true stars as a third or fourth option allowed him to focus on what he does best — shoot a reliable 3-ball and defend multiple positions. At the time he was drafted in Detroit, he was not a unanimous selection. Remember the great KCP vs. Trey Burke debate? KCP eventually earned the respect of Pistons fans, and he now has the seventh-most win shares of his entire draft class. Perhaps it is a sign of how screwy that draft was that he’s actually ahead of every player drafted above him but currently trails players including Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Rudy Gobert (27th) and Mason Plumlee (22nd).
4. Reggie Jackson
Career with Pistons: 16.2 points, 5.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds
2022-23 season with Nuggets: 7.9 points, 3.1 assists, 1.8 rebounds
Reggie Jackson was limited to just 18 minutes during this playoff run with the Denver Nuggets, but I’m glad he got his ring. In fact, if you told me you were most happy for Reggie Jackson among these former Pistons players, not only would I not be surprised, I would admit that you’re probably right to feel that way.
Nobody was more mistreated by Pistons fans during their tenure than Jackson, and it was sad the way the point guard’s tenure ended in Motown. Luckily, Jackson was able to recapture his love for the game during his stint with the LA Clippers, and when he came to Denver he was able to provide some spot minutes, some mentorship and some much-needed perspective about the ups and down of an NBA career.
Much of that career in Detroit was Jackson playing injured, recovering from injury, on the floor in a limited capacity and just frankly not being very good. I’m not going to lie and say his tenure in Detroit featured a lot of great basketball. But he still has something to offer the game. And I’m glad he’s still in the NBA providing what he can and being rewarded for it.
5. DeAndre Jordan
Career with Pistons: $7.8 million dead cap hit, 4 second-round picks
2022-23 season with Nuggets: 5.1 points, 0.9 assists, 5.2 rebounds
A 15-year NBA career for a second-round pick must be respected. Even if that career should have ended in like 2019. He never suited up for the Pistons, but did allow me never to see Jahlil Okafor play again, which was a plus. But I can’t support Jordan considering he turned Brandon Knight’s NBA career into a meme.