Pistons’ Van Gundy leaning toward re-signing Harper

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Justin Harper

San Antonio — Justin Harper knows there are no guarantees in the NBA with a 10-day contract. It could mean just sitting on the bench and waiting on an opportunity to contribute or even a few minutes of mop-up time in the closing minutes of a blowout.

In any case, getting even a smidgen of game time is valuable for providing a live audition for a team or giving another NBA team a glimpse of what a player can provide.

The sands of the hourglass in Harper’s 10-day deal from Feb. 24 are winding down and this weekend could provide an opportunity to sign another 10-day contract, or to go back to the D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said he hasn’t made a decision about what the team will do with Harper yet, but the signs are encouraging.

“I’ve been happy with Justin. My thought right now is the probability is that we pick it up and give him another 10-day,” Van Gundy said following Wednesday’s shootaround.

But Van Gundy stopped short of declaring that they’d definitely keep Harper around as things can change quickly, as exemplified by the recent spate of injuries — which necessitated signing Harper last week.

“If you say something definitive and something changes, now you’ve lied to a guy and I don’t want to do that,” Van Gundy said. “Right now, I would lean to it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple days.”

Harper, 26, has done his part to make sure he gets another opportunity. He played 16 minutes and knocked down three 3-pointers in the win over the Toronto Raptors. He had one point total in the two previous games, but he’s starting to find a groove, seemingly unaffected by the big stage he’s on with the Pistons.

He played big minutes in the first quarter on Sunday and is looking forward to making more of an impact with more playing time while Anthony Tolliver (knee) is out. But with his experience, he’s ready for the limelight when he’s called to action.

“It’s a thin line between being over-anxious and being nervous whenever you get out there and being ready. I try not to think about it too much, a 10-day contract,” Harper said. “It’s an audition and you’re trying to show that you can be a great asset to the team but you can only control what you can control.

“The less I think about it, the easier it is to go out there and play my game. You can’t be scared to make mistakes but as long as you’re playing hard, Stan is a big fan of players who come in ready to play and give it their all.”

Van Gundy noted he gauges Harper’s value on how the team plays with him on the court and although the plus-minus doesn’t show Harper’s full contribution (minus-23 in three games), the eye test tells a different story.

Some of the familiarity with the system can be attributed to playing with the Pistons during summer league, but averaging 14.8 points and hitting 40 percent on 3-pointers was enough to get him a regular-season look.

His Pistons teammates have noticed how Harper has gone about his business and has been an asset.

“He’s fit in like he’s been here since training camp,” Reggie Jackson said. “He’s out there and he’s very comfortable and plays that way. He makes the most of every opportunity, taking shots he can make, plays simple basketball and trusts his instincts.”

Marcus Morris, whose Kansas team played against Harper’s Richmond squad in college, also has seen how Harper has made the transition to the NBA without missing a beat.

Morris’ best advice to Harper was just to remain himself and not try to do too much because he has a role on the team and the opportunities will present themselves for him to excel.

“We’re not looking for him to come in and be a 30-point scorer or anything,” Morris said. “Just be solid, knock down shots and defend.”

Bouncing back

During their four-game win streak, tied for a season high, the Pistons have allowed just 92.8 points and allowed 45 percent on field goals. Although two of the wins were against non-playoff teams (Philadelphia and Milwaukee), the other two were against the top teams in the East (Cleveland and Toronto).

The win streak came off the five-game skid, where the Pistons allowed 105.4 points and gave up 50 percent from the field.