Auburn Hills — If he had it to do over, Andre Drummond would have handled it differently.
That Friday night in April, when the Pistons ended their doldrums and beat the Wizards to clinch a postseason spot for the first time in seven seasons, he was on the bench, moping he was discontent with sitting for most of the fourth quarter.
It was a low point — even lower than his first three seasons, when the Pistons were far from a playoff team. Drummond apologized to his teammates — and fans — realizing the focus was too much on him.
It’ll be that way from now on after Drummond officially signed a new contract — worth more than $125 million over five years.
And that contract is more than just an investment in his abilities on the court — it’s an incentive for him to become a leader and the pulse of the franchise.
“It’s a lot on my plate and new responsibility comes with this deal,” said Drummond, a 6-foot-11 center. “The way I’ve been playing the past year or two, it comes with new expectations, too.
“I have to be a leader for my team and be that anchor. I can’t show fear or doubt or (negative) facial expressions because things like that don’t look good on TV nor do my teammates feed off that.”
The good news is Drummond is only 22 years old — two years younger than second-round pick Michael Gbinije — so he’s still maturing.
But going through that experience helped him to shed some light on himself and do some reflecting.
“Everybody needs to mature as a person, and for me, as a player and a young guy, I love the game I play and when I’m not playing well, obviously I’m going to be upset,” Drummond said. “I can’t show that because everybody feeds off that and it doesn’t look good.
“It’s a growing point for me and I know that now and I know I can’t do things like that because people ride off what I do.”
For an entire season, Drummond had carried that leadership burden without the official title. He had the option last summer to get a big long-term extension, but by deferring the decision, he saved the Pistons $13 million of salary cap space, which they used to bring in other pieces.
Those pieces ended up being Tobias Harris, plus the flexibility to go after point guard Ish Smith, stretch forward Jon Leuer, and center Boban Marjanovic during free agency, which bolstered the bench.
“I knew what was at stake and I had a chance to be in a situation where I am now but I knew if I took a chance, I could make my team better,” Drummond said. “I wanted to take that chance to make my team better because at the end of the day, the money will be there, but winning is that much sweeter.”
With the new contract, Drummond becomes the highest-paid Pistons player in franchise history — and gets the stability and security he has desired. His relationship with owner Tom Gores was what made the deal work, along with the extra year of waiting.
Drummond met with his mother as well as Gores, president/coach Stan Van Gundy, and general manager Jeff Bower to make sure they were on the same page.
“It’s something we talked about early last year in October, when the issue of his extension came up and the fact he was willing to wait,” Van Gundy said. “Tom was adamant — and they have a very trusting relationship — that the decision on whether to do the extension, even though it was technically within our hands, Tom wanted Andre to be on board whichever way we went.”
Drummond was patient, and with the new roster additions, he hopes the Pistons can make a deeper run in the playoffs.
The next step will be improving on his best season, too, which including a third-team all-NBA selection and his first All-Star spot. Drummond posted career highs in points (16.2) and led the league in rebounds (14.8) and double-doubles (66).
The bugaboo, however, remains free-throw shooting, where he posted a league-worst 36 percent. That is what forced Van Gundy to sit Drummond late in games — and for teams to target him with intentional fouls.
Drummond said he has worked to improve the shooting, but didn’t divulge his new technique.
“I just try different tactics (on free throws),” he said. “Stan and I have discussed it at the end of the season and tried different things. We found something that works and we’re going to stick with it until the season starts and roll with it.”