Auburn Hills — At age 38, Joe Johnson is showing that he still has something left. After signing with the Pistons on a partially guaranteed deal this month, Johnson looks to be in a two-way competition for the final roster spot entering training camp, which begins next week.
Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t sure what to expect from Johnson in his Pistons workout, after Johnson was coming off a summer playing in the Big3 3-on-3 pro league. Johnson dominated and was the Big3 MVP but there aren’t many precedents for having that carry over in a return to the NBA.
That is, until Johnson did it.
“My main concern was Joe getting up and down and he showed that he can still run the floor and still be athletic,” Casey said. “He has it, even at (38). He’s not a 40-minute player anymore but we don’t need him for 40 minutes. We need that experience from a guy like that who can bring it at the end of games and close games.”
Johnson last played in the NBA in 2018, when he averaged 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds with the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets. He didn’t play in the NBA last season but is looking to reboot with the Pistons.
“The need is there but we also have a need for that veteran player like a Joe Johnson, who can put the ball on the floor and still make plays and still shoot the ball,” Casey said. “He stayed in great shape and kept his body in great shape.”
The Pistons already have 14 guaranteed contracts and although Johnson’s deal is guaranteed for a small amount, Wood’s contract isn’t guaranteed unless he makes the opening-day regular-season roster.
Wood, 23, has been impressive in his workouts this summer and at 6-foot-11, he brings an element of size and versatility that Casey covets in a big man.
“Christian Wood has been a pleasant surprise. He’s been disciplined and focused,” Casey said. “With his length, he’s shown in pickup games that he’s different (like) Thon maybe, but he’s more of a perimeter (center) and can block shots and shoot the 3.”
Both Johnson and Wood are part of a roster reconstruction that features several new faces, including Tony Snell, Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tim Frazier and rookie Sekou Doumbouya. In total, it could be half of the roster is new from last season’s team that finished 41-41 and made the playoffs as an eighth seed.
There’s a balance of veterans and young players to build around for the future, but Casey doesn’t discount the impact a savvy vet like Johnson can bring to the mix, especially in critical situations.
The Pistons faltered down the stretch in some of those situations last season and the roster additions could be aimed at improving in those areas.
“He’s mature, he’s seen it all and loves the game of basketball,” Casey said. “He can talk about old-school basketball, new-school basketball the history of the game. He has a great understanding of all those things.
“That’s the maturity he brings; he doesn’t get high or low and we need that even-keel approach and professionalism. At the end of the day, he can still go out and get it done on the court — and you need that in crunch time when things are tight and you’re going through adversity.
“He’s seen everything and those are the big-time pluses he brings to the table.”
Although it's not directly a head-to-head competition between Johnson and Wood in training camp, a lot of the attention will be on how each fits and adapts to the second unit. That could be an indicator of how things proceed — and ultimately, which could have an advantage in gaining the final roster spot.