Pistons' Hilliard out with stress fracture in lower back
Orlando, Fla. — Before it really got started, the summer is cut short for Pistons reserve Darrun Hilliard.
Projected to be one of the featured players on the Pistons’ summer league team in Orlando, Hilliard suffered a stress fracture of his lower back and is out indefinitely. He will miss all of the summer league and the outlook is unclear, pending a re-evaluation by team doctors.
“My back was just always really tight and I didn’t think too much of it and I felt like I could push through it and keep going,” Hilliard said. “That’s my mentality — I’m always going to push through everything.
“It’s just God’s way of telling me I need to sit down and chill.”
Hilliard, a 6-foot-6 guard, was a second-round pick last year and played in 38 games, averaging 4 points and 1.2 rebounds, hitting 38 percent of his 3-pointers.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had slotted Hilliard as one of the featured players on the summer league squad, along with Stanley Johnson, to get him some extended play and use as a shooter and scorer. Hilliard is in line to have a bigger role with the team next season, after the Pistons traded Jodie Meeks to the Orlando Magic for a 2019 second-round pick.
Hilliard admitted that he’s continued to play basketball through most of the summer and hasn’t given himself much time to rest. But what started as nagging back tightness turned into something more serious.
“I don’t know when (it happened). It could have been a couple weeks ago; I just thought my back was tight and I just thought that I wasn’t stretching enough,” he said. “I was stretching and stretching and stretching, thinking it would get better and it never got better.”
The summer league team has done two-a-day practices this week in preparation for their five-game schedule, beginning Saturday. Hilliard practiced on Thursday morning but said things didn’t feel right.
“(Wednesday) I couldn’t move how I wanted to move and (Thursday) morning, I was in a lot of pain and wasn’t really playing how I can play and wasn’t moving how I wanted to move,” Hilliard said. “I rarely get hurt because I take care of myself. When I’m hurt, I know I’m hurt. I went to get an MRI and they told me the news.”
Hilliard said he’ll stay in Orlando to support Johnson and rookies Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije.
Forward Marcus Morris paid a visit to the summer league team in Orlando on Thursday. He said he’s also been working for much of the summer, trying to get ready for another run at the playoffs next season.
After playing a career high in minutes last season, he’s looking to be in better shape to prepare for the grind of the long regular season, plus a potential playoff run.
“Toward the end of the season, I feel like I fell off a little bit on defense, getting screened a lot,” Morris said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film and breaking down my shot a lot more.”
Although the loss to the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs was disappointing, Morris sees the benefit in just making a run to the playoffs and getting a taste of what the postseason is like, whetting his appetite for a longer stay next season.
“Cleveland is a great team; I picked them to win it in the beginning. Up until the championship, we gave them the best run they had, even with Toronto winning those two games,” he said. “I felt like we still played them hard and we’re younger; we have to get in the gym and work harder.
“The feeling I got in the playoffs, I’m sure we all got the same feeling and it felt great to do it for a city like Detroit.
“I didn’t want to get swept, but it is what it is. I promise you we won’t get swept next year.”
Associate coach Bob Beyer, who is coaching the summer league team, says things are coming together ahead of the first game this weekend. With many new pieces to fit together, including rookies Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije, there’s a lot of progress to make in a short time.
“Guys just felt more comfortable playing with each other and having a familiarity with our defensive and offensive systems,” Beyer said. “A lot of times in summer league, when you bring in so many guys who have never played together and the terminology is different, everyone gets going about 100 mph and things are really sloppy.
“Today was the first day where we got ourselves to slow down a little bit and we saw some positive things out on the court.”
The Pistons open against the Knicks summer league team at Amway Center on Saturday.