Moreland poised to make good on chance with Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
A strong performance in the Orlando Summer League helped center Eric Moreland earn a roster spot with the Detroit Pistons.

Auburn Hills — All Eric Moreland wanted was a chance.

A chance to compete. A chance to show that he could still play in the NBA. A chance to even have a chance to make the Pistons roster for next season.

The 6-foot-10 center just needed someone to believe in him. That wasn’t going to be easy, given there wasn’t a lot to work with: He was undrafted out of Oregon State and played just 11 games total in two injury-riddled seasons with the Sacramento Kings.

He spent last season with the Canton Charge in the NBA Development League, trying to work his way back from a shoulder injury and fractured foot that short-circuited his jump-start in the NBA in 2014-15.

Moreland, 25, was in the Pistons’ free-agent camp last month and parlayed that tryout into a spot on the summer league team. That’s one rung up, but still plenty more to go back where he wanted to be.

The Pistons made him an offer for a two-way deal to split time with the Grand Rapids Drive. That was a chance, but not quite enough for Moreland. In the first two games of summer league, Moreland had 10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks and followed with 15 points, six rebounds and four blocks the next day.

That was enough to impress Pistons president Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower — and to earn Moreland a chance.

“(Before summer league) we were offering one of those two-way contracts, which are pretty good now with guaranteed money,” Van Gundy said Monday. “He was glad we had the interest but he and agent said he was going to make the roster.

“That’s exactly what happened and he had the confidence and went out and played and we were two games in (summer league) when we said we were going to offer him a contract.”

Moreland is getting his chance as the Pistons’ third center, to learn and grow behind Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic. Throughout summer league, his energy on the defensive end — leading the Orlando Summer League in blocks and charges taken — opened some eyes not just with the Pistons, but with other teams around the league.

Moreland, though, didn’t look at other options; with the work that the Pistons put into working with him, he wasn’t willing to turn away. Now that he’s totally healthy, he’s looking to take advantage of this chance and make the most of it.

“It’s a good opportunity to show these coaches they didn’t make a mistake,” Moreland said. “I feel like I belong in this league and I’ve had a tough break with a few injuries. Being with the Canton Charge last year was a chance to get back on my feet and learn this game as I go.”

It was a long road back from the injuries, but all the work has been worth it for Moreland. He always believed he would get back to the NBA, working harder through his year in the D-League, when he averaged 12.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

“I always believed and feel like I belong. I try to sponge all the information I can in the NBA and try to be a professional on and off the court,” Moreland said. “I’ve never lost faith and I always just wanted to get back out there and be healthy and try to prove myself.”

He’ll be the third center, but likely will get a chunk of playing time, as the Pistons’ most athletic big man. He showed flashes of being able to guard smaller, quicker players on the perimeter, but could get bigger challenges against the likes of Kevin Love, Pau Gasol and other stretch centers in the NBA, where using Drummond and Marjanovic wouldn’t be the best option.

“Eric is different from those guys. Boban is a totally different player than what Eric is. Boban is one of the most unique players in the league: 7-foot-4 and great skills and going to score,” Van Gundy said. “So you’ve got Boban as a great option but then you’ve also got a guy like Eric, who can really move his feet defensively out on the perimeter to guard pick-and-rolls, block shots, take charges, protect the basket and then be that high-energy, runner, pick-and-roll guy.”

Van Gundy said Drummond texted him when he found out about the Moreland signing, realizing he’d have to run more to keep up with the newest Piston.

Like Moreland, he’ll have a chance.