Suns to draft No. 1; no first-round pick for Pistons

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
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NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum congratulates Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson after Tatum announced that the Suns had won the first pick.

Chicago — There was no rabbit’s foot in Luke Kennard’s pocket on Tuesday night.

The rookie guard was in town to represent the Detroit Pistons at the NBA Draft Lottery and, as expected, the team did not land one of the top three picks, meaning its first-round choice in next month’s draft went to the L.A. Clippers as part of the Blake Griffin trade.

But with the long odds the team faced to get one of the first three picks, any good-luck charm from Kennard might not have done much good anyway.

“Obviously we were wishing we could have gotten a top-three pick there but by the chance it didn’t happen,” Kennard said. “It was an honor to represent (the Pistons) and, like I said, it was a cool experience.”

Missing out on getting a first-round pick this season was hardly news. With the Pistons, the more pressing topic is where the organization turns after owner Tom Gores fired coach and team president Stan Van Gundy a little more than a week ago. General manager Jeff Bower was in Chicago on Tuesday night, and with his contract expiring at the end of June, his future with team is uncertain.

Kennard said the moves are for the betterment of the team.

“I mean, we trust the organization, the owner,” Kennard said. “We trust what they do. We trust they’re gonna make the best decision that will take us to the next level. We respect the decision. Stan did a great job for us. He made me a better player, he made our guys better players and I learned a lot from him. But the organization, they decided to take the next step and I’m excited for it.”

The next step will be a big one for Kennard, who was the Pistons’ first-round pick last season out of Duke, going No. 12 overall. His rookie season was far from a rounding success as he averaged 7.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 73 games.

Van Gundy was hard on Kennard at times, but Kennard insists his relationship with the former coach was a good one.

“I like when coaches are tough on me, I really do,” Kennard said. “So I feel like we got along. I learned a lot from him and I feel like he was on me at times because he wanted me to be better, and like I said, he made me a better player. I learned a lot from him and I understood everything he told me.”

What made Kennard’s rookie season ups and downs difficult for many was that the Pistons took him No. 12 overall, one spot head of Donovan Mitchell, who went No. 13 to the Utah Jazz.

While Kennard went through the typical rookie growing pains, Mitchell was busy putting together a rookie of the year-type season. He scored 20.5 points a game during the regular season and bumped that up to 24.4 points in 11 playoff games.

Kennard said he didn’t let the comparisons affect him.

“I’ve heard a few things but I try to stay out of it,” Kennard said. “But Donovan is a great player. I think we play very differently, but I think he’s the rookie of the year. I think he’s gonna be a great player in this league, but I don’t try and get caught up in that. I don’t think about that. I’m excited for next year and what I can bring and it’s gonna be a good year.”

Kennard said he’s already been working hard this offseason. He took a quick break, but since then it’s been back to business.

And Mitchell’s success isn’t what’s driving him heading into next season.

“I could use it for motivation or I could not even worry about it,” Kennard said. “But it’s a thing that I’m just not worried about. I like to think about what I’m doing, what I can do to get better and what I can do to help the team, the Pistons organization. That’s what it's all about for me. I try not to get caught up in things like that where it can hold me back. I’m moving forward and trying to get better and help this team as much as I can.”

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