Austin Daye has the hot hand lately for the Pistons. (The Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Austin Daye slipped into a pair of maroon pants, shirt and sweater and slowly screwed a pair of black, polished earrings into his lobes as the media waited to talk to him.
"You won't be happy, but I am going to get fully dressed before I talk," Daye said.
Finally, when he slid on a pair of black socks with skull-and-crossbones pattern, Daye talked about his incredible 20-point, six-rebound night during the Pistons' 85-84 victory Friday over the Atlanta Hawks at The Palace. Finally, Daye was worth the wait.
Patience has been the key word for Daye as his career finally shows signs of life. The Pistons remained patient as Daye saw players like Charlie Villanueva, Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko eat up playing time from him. It even messed with his head a year ago when the Pistons re-signed Tayshaun Prince to a four-year deal. Both play the same positions and Daye knew his days as a starter must wait.
Daye remained patient as he slid so far down the bench that fans sitting in those expensive, courtside seats were closer to coach Lawrence Frank's chair than Daye was. The Pistons did not expect Daye to become the second coming when they drafted him 15th in the 2009 draft, but they expected more nights like this, when passive Daye turned possessed.
He hit shots and pumped a fist. After one jumper he smiled, shrugged and ran down the court as if he owned it. It was similar to when Michael Jordan hit those shots against Portland in the NBA Finals. Now, Daye is no Jordan but it was refreshing to see him play with a swagger.
"It feels good to be out there and I am comfortable again so the coaches are giving me more plays, pick-and-roll plays," Daye said. "It feels good to be out there and to be a little loose."
A day later during practice Daye had that same look as he schooled teammates during a shooting and defensive drill. It's a new Daye at the Palace. The question: Is this real? Will it stick around?
Let's be clear. This column is not proclaiming Daye has arrived. Every night won't be his night because Daye plays on a second unit that is turning heads and making a difference. It always seems to be a new man's time to shine. And if he keeps shooting, opponents will pay more attention to him.
Besides, the Pistons are a team on which guys appear and disappear. Do you remember how excited we were about Jerebko? He barely plays now. Singler came on like gangbusters, but his numbers are declining. Charlie Villanueva went from sideshow to showtime.
Guys sit, then they shine when given an opportunity. This is good news for Frank. It gives him flexibility and more buttons to push in tight games. He can ride the hot hand and find another one when that one cools.
Daye has the hot hand now. He hit the clinching 3-point shot against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday and finished with 13 points.
The most impressive thing about Daye wasn't the 20-point night. It was the vibe he sent off. You knew he was in a zone and there is no way of measuring how good he felt. But you could tell he was a young man feeling the game and enjoying the game. If he could put that feeling in a bottle, Daye would be a rich man.
"Yeah, yeah," Daye said. "Some of them you know are going it. It felt good to release the shot and have the confidence to walk away from the shot knowing it will go in."
Still in contention
Some days Daye did not look confident. His body language told the story of a young man trying to find himself and earn playing time.
"I went through a lot," Daye said. "It has been tough to always remain confident, but I told myself I can play this game at a high level and I know that. For me I look at this as a blessing. I look at it as an opportunity and I took advantage of it."
So how does he package this feeling and carry it with him every time he walks onto the court? The key is to walk out on the court as if he owns it but also play within himself and not take stupid shots out of sync from the offense. It is a tough balance but it is important that Daye find it.
He is like a wild card. The Pistons are not ready to win a title but if they can get consistent contributions from Daye it would add an element the team had not counted on. It makes the team better and puts them in playoff contention.
The Pistons (13-22) are currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, 3-1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth and final playoff spot. Philadelphia and Orlando also stand in their way and all three teams have been better than the Pistons over the years. So the journey is tough.
But if this surge from a once-forgotten man continues the Pistons will be dangerous and will make a legitimate run at the bottom rung of the playoffs.