Focus on 'right now' for Wayne Ellington in Pistons' playoff push
Auburn Hills — Wayne Ellington was the last player on the practice court following his first Pistons practice. He didn’t look to be out of place in trying to get integrated quickly with his new team, fitting right in during some of the drills.
Ellington, who signed Saturday with the Pistons as a coveted free agent after being waived by the Phoenix Suns this week, is looking to hit the ground running in his expected debut on Monday, when the Pistons face the Washington Wizards at Little Caesars Arena.
He’s a welcome addition for the Pistons, who are among the league’s worst teams in 3-point shooting. After trading Reggie Bullock, their best 3-point shooter, there was a void and Ellington helps; he is hitting 37 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Ellington also brings playoff experience and a veteran presence who will benefit the Pistons (25-29) as they make a run toward the postseason in the final 28 games. That gives him an advantage in trying to acclimate quickly to coach Dwane Casey’s system.
“He’s such a smart player and he understands certain things we’re doing and how he’s going to get his shot, so it won’t be hard to integrate him into what we’re doing,” Casey said after Sunday’s practice. “We plan to put him into the things we did with Reggie Bullock. The main thing is understanding the terminology, so we can ease him in pretty quickly.”
Adding Ellington for the remainder of the season after waiving Henry Ellenson gives the Pistons a needed scorer and perimeter threat. Although he’ll be a free agent this summer, Ellington’s focus isn’t on the long term right now; it’s about making a playoff push.
“It’s (about) being able to help now. Coach Casey and the organization value what I bring to the table; that’s what’s most valuable to me — this year, right now, is what I’m looking at,” Ellington said. “This summer is this summer and I’m worried about now and what we can do with this team right here and how I can help. We can take a leap; we’re right there and a half-game out of the playoffs. I’m looking to the next spot, not just the eighth spot — we can get there.”
After he was waived and became a free agent, Ellington was a coveted target on the buyout market following Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. He fielded several offers and although the Pistons didn’t have much cap space, he saw a prime opportunity for playing time and the chance to help them get to the playoffs as a bigger appeal.
“(There were) a lot of teams, with different roles and things,” he said. “I don’t know exactly the number, but my agent, Mark Bartelstein, communicated with a lot of teams.”
With the two trades the Pistons made before the deadline, they were able to create enough cap space to bring in Ellington. Along with Svi Mykhailiuk and Thon Maker, who were added in separate trades, the Pistons have a new-look reserve unit.
Ellington, 31, who is in his 10th season, played 25 games this year for the Miami Heat — who happen to be a half-game ahead of the Pistons for the final playoff spot in the East. It’s an addition to the winning culture Casey and the new front office are looking to bring.
“Character-wise, he’s about winning; he’s from a winning program. That’s the most important thing: you’re bringing guys in who fit what you’re trying to do, who are serious about winning and play with a pure heart. You’ll take as many of those as you can get,” Casey said. “He’s a proven winner who’s been in multiple playoff situations. The character part, you can’t overemphasize guys who are serious about winning.”
As he gets his bearings in two games this week, Ellington will have practice time after the All-Star break next week to get a better rapport with Blake Griffin and the rest of his new teammates. The pair worked together some at the end of practice, which might suggest that Ellington might join the starters soon.
“This is a different situation and in going through practice and playing the Pistons and coach Casey over the years, I’m pretty familiar with some of his sets and offense and what he wants defensively,” Ellington said. “Today was pretty easy for me and I picked up on the plays pretty quickly.
“I’m a student right now and learning everything. I already went through some stuff with Blake at the end of practice. We’ll just continue to learn how we can help each other and I can help him a lot. He demands a lot of attention so a guy like me can take a little of that off him.”
Ellington has played in just five games since Christmas, but he said that he has maintained his exercise regimen and stayed in shape, since his playing time in Miami dried up.
“If you know anything about the Heat, they demand a strict weight and body-fat program. I’m ready,” he said. “I stayed with my conditioning and got a lot of work in. there’s nothing to simulate game reps but I did what I could to simulate that.”
Wizards at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Monday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Pistons (25-29) have won three straight and have reshaped their second unit since Thursday’s trade deadline. Wayne Ellington likely will make his Pistons debut but probably won’t start just yet. The Wizards (24-32) have won two straight and trail the Pistons by two games.