Morris volunteers to fill leadership role for Pistons

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — The Pistons roller-coaster season has been marred with inconsistency on both ends of the floor.

Last week, an added loop was thrown in when guard Brandon Jennings said the team lacked a leader following its 115-99 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.

But coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t have a problem with Jennings’ brutal honesty.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with him. I think he’s probably right,” Van Gundy said Wednesday after the team’s shoot-around preceding its game versus the 76ers.

“I think the bigger issue is by far how hard we play and the defensive commitment we bring to the floor every night. If everybody plays hard and brings a defensive commitment, I’m not sure the other stuff is all that important.”

Van Gundy added that simply talking about leadership isn’t going to solve the problem.

“I read the other day about (Lakers’) Kobe (Bryant) giving a speech in the locker room. I’m not saying that stuff is bad, but to me that’s just not what leadership is,” Van Gundy said. “Leadership is going out on the court and doing it. Anybody can get up and give a speech.

Replay: Pistons chat with Rod Beard

“I mean there’s probably a lot better speech makers outside of basketball than there are inside of it. If that’s all we need, let’s give a roster spot to some of the great speech makers and they can be our leaders in the locker room. It’s meaningless.”

Van Gundy pointed to point guard Reggie Jackson’s performance Monday against the Utah Jazz as an example. Jackson scored 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting and held Trey Burke (Michigan) scoreless in 22 minutes.

“I thought he was really motivated the other night and he took some leadership,” Van Gundy said. “He knew we were really struggling on the defensive end and rather than just talking about it, go out and do it from the beginning of the game. That kind of stuff gets contagious.”

Pistons forward Marcus Morris agreed with Jennings’ remarks and said he’s taking it upon himself to fill that role and bring the team together.

“Me and Stan talk and we both agree that guys have a lot of respect for me, so that’s one thing he wants me to do more is to step up and speak more,” said Morris, in his fifth season. “We both agree I go out and compete every night. Sometimes I am tired but for the most part, I compete every night.

“And I have a voice so it’s just a natural thing. … I take it on my shoulders to become a better leader.”

Morris said it helps that he can handle Van Gundy’s tough-love approach and be used as an example.

“Stan will say some stuff to me sometimes and I think he does it just because he knows it brings out the fire in me,” Morris said. “Some guys you just have to approach different ways. I come from a background where I had tough coaches at college and high school.

“If he gets on me, he can get on anybody.”

Johnson misses cut

The World and U.S. team rosters for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were unveiled Wednesday, and rookie Stanley Johnson failed to make the cut for the U.S.’s 10-man squad.

The game, which takes place during All-Star weekend, is reserved for first- and second-year players. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell and 76ers center Jahlil Okafor were the only rookies to make the U.S. Team.

“I’m sure for (Stanley) it’s a little bit disappointing. There’s a lot bigger things to come for Stanley than the Rising Stars Challenge,” said Van Gundy, who added he’s not a fan of the event. “Hopefully there’s a lot bigger things to come for all of us.

“Let’s wait until they’re actually in the All-Star Game to start celebrating.”

Through 45 games, Johnson is averaging 8.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 22.3 minutes as the Pistons’ sixth man.

Woeful streak

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pistons defense has allowed 30 or more points in at least one quarter its past seven games.

After limiting the Jazz to 36 points in the first half — including a season-low 13 in the first quarter — the Pistons nearly snapped the streak before giving up 33 points in the fourth. Yet, Van Gundy wasn’t displeased with his team’s defense in the final quarter.

“(Rodney) Hood had 11 points in two minutes, hitting long threes and things like that,” Van Gundy said. “I thought the other five threes (Hood) hit in that game, we were right there and they were from distance.

“Every once in a while that happens, whether it’s Matt Barnes in Memphis or (Monday). There’s not a whole lot you can do about that.”

Despite the defensive lapses, the Pistons rank 10th in points allowed (100.1).