Boston — Ahead of Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics, most of the attention was on the matchup being between the teams with the top two records in the Eastern Conference and Avery Bradley playing his first game back at TD Garden.
In Bradley’s case, he played his first seven seasons with the Celtics, who picked him 19th overall in the 2010 draft. Morris and Baynes had played only two seasons (2015-2017) for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy.
Even at the time of the Morris deal in July, Van Gundy admitted the trade was difficult to sign off on because of the impact that Morris had in bringing a toughness and work ethic that gave the Pistons a boost.
Baynes anchored the reserve group and was a solid backup to Andre Drummond. Van Gundy retooled the bench, bringing in Boban Marjanovic as a stopgap measure in case Baynes decided to opt out. That didn’t make losing them both any easier.
“I’ve coached in this league a very long time, and those guys are two of my favorite tough, team-oriented guys, who will try to do whatever it takes to win,” Van Gundy said Monday afternoon. “As happy as we were to get Avery, it was tough dealing Marcus and it was tough certainly losing Aron, just the way the situation went down.”
After earning $6.5 million in each of his two seasons with the Pistons, Baynes made a calculated gamble and used his player option to become a free agent. Most general managers and experts projected that it would be another fruitful summer for free agents, just as the offseason in 2016 had been.
The market soured. Baynes had to search for a deal, finally landing with the Celtics for $4.3 million — less than half of what he could have gotten if he had chosen to return to the Pistons.
“It ended sort of crazy for both of us because he opted out and ended up with less money and missed the market,” Van Gundy said. “I was disappointed in that for us, but also for him because of what he had done for the two years.”
With their 12-6 start, things haven’t exactly been bad for the Pistons, but the Celtics have been even better, at 18-3. Still, it’ll be bittersweet for Van Gundy in facing two players for whom he has such admiration.
“I love both of those guys and have great respect and appreciation for what they gave us over two years,” Van Gundy said.
NO BIG DEAL
Bradley was playing down his return to Boston, but he got an ovation from Celtics fans when he was strategically announced last in pregame introductions.
Van Gundy said he wasn’t sure how Bradley would react to the emotions of playing his former team for the first time, but added that players themselves don’t really have an idea of what it’s like until they go through it the first time themselves.
Reggie Jackson has been through it a few times, most recently at Oklahoma City on Friday. He had some advice for Bradley.
“He seems like he’s going to do well with it already. The best advice is not to go making it personal — it’s something I’ve told him — but at the same time, it’s hard not to,” Jackson said. “Just go out there and play your game. He’s always cool, calm and collected. Avery is Avery.”
At the beginning of the season, few would have picked the Celtics and Pistons to be the top teams in the East at this point, but it’s worked out that way. Even with a marquee matchup, Jackson doesn’t look at it as any bigger than other game on the schedule.
“You look at it as another game, but it’s a little different because of where they are, how well they’ve played and it’s an opportunity to go and play a great them,” he said. “It’s not something you put extra emphasis on; you try to emphasize each and every game each and every day. The whole season you try to do the best you can daily.”
PISTONS AT CELTICS
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Monday, TD Garden, Boston
Outlook: The Celtics have the NBA’s best record at 18-3. … Ex-Piston Marcus Morris has started eight of the 11 games in which he has appeared. He is averaging 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 23.6 minutes. Morris, dealing with a knee issue, did not play in the Celtics’ 108-98 win in Indiana on Saturday night.