Detroit — The Pistons have been ravaged by injuries, having lost Blake Griffin for what could be the remainder of the season and having Reggie Jackson for just the first two games of the year.
Other injuries have dotted the roster at various points of the season, but there’s some optimism that help could be on the way.
After visiting with a back specialist in Los Angeles last week, there’s optimism that Jackson could return to the lineup in the next couple of weeks, a welcome addition to a depleted position on the roster.
Derrick Rose has been on a minutes restriction all season, but in the last two games, he has played season highs of 31 and 36 minutes, respectively. Tim Frazier’s minutes have decreased of late and with Bruce Brown as the only other option, simply having Jackson back could provide a traditional point guard and improved ball-handling and distribution skills that they’ve lacked all season.
There’s a slim possibility for more help, as well.
The Pistons applied for a Disabled Player Exception for Griffin, who played in only 18 games and had knee surgery on Tuesday. The deadline to apply for the exception is Wednesday and the Pistons would be able to get an exception for $9.3 million that they could use to bring in another player to help the roster.
The problem is that the Pistons are perilously close — less than $4,000 — from the luxury-tax line and almost assuredly won’t go into the tax with a losing record and a longshot at the playoffs. Simply waiving a player wouldn’t help, because the contracts are guaranteed, but if they cleared more space via trade, they could use the exception.
Though Andre Drummond has been mentioned in trade rumors, there isn’t a specific pathway to the Pistons being able to use the exception unless they get creative and find a suitable trade partner to make it work.
They wouldn’t likely seek an exception for Jackson, because he’s not going to be out for the remainder of the season, as Griffin could be. If the exception for Griffin is approved, the Pistons might not be able to use it, but having it is better than not having it, ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
Good to go
Reserve center Christian Wood had a special day on Friday. Because he was still on the roster, his contract became fully guaranteed, meaning, he’ll get the full salary of $1.6 million. It’s a big step forward for Wood, who hasn’t played a full season for a team since entering the league in 2015-16.
Wood, 24, has played in 35 games this season, more than his previous two seasons combined, and has posted career highs of 9.3 points and five rebounds and 16.5 minutes. From journeyman to steady backup, it’s been a breakthrough season.
“The transition for me has been good. It's something I hadn't really thought about,” Wood said. “I didn't really kind of know the (guarantee) dates, but now it's something I'm proud of. I'm happy and I think I deserve it.”
Wood has filled in nicely behind Drummond and although there were questions about Wood’s consistency and whether he could be stick with the team through training camp, he’s answered most of them. Wood was in a competition with Joe Johnson for the final roster spot and not only has claimed it but has carved out a niche for himself and made some believers.
“He's really lived up to that and more he's been a pro. He's been responsible. You know that on the court, in those situations as we expected,” Casey said. “With a role increase, there are going to be situations where he's going to make mistakes. He's done everything.”
Beyond this season, if he continues what he’s done, Wood could have a career in the NBA — with the Pistons or another team. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so the Pistons can’t negotiate with him on a contract extension, but the foundation has been laid.
Wood has run into some adversity lately with his production, but considering his age and that this is the first consistent playing time he’s gotten over a long period, he’s due for some growth.
“Everybody's excited about the rookies but basically he's a young player also at his age come in the league early,” Casey said. “So when we talk about development and growth, he's a big part of that too, because he's so skilled.”
It’s a big day for Wood, but he said he doesn’t plan to do anything extravagant to celebrate. He stayed late in practice on Friday to work on his game and to try to stay on the right track to improving his game.
“Right now, I got to have a good game that's my celebration,” he said. “A good game and a win — and that's it.”
Pistons vs. Bulls
Tipoff: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Bulls (13-25) have lost five games in a row and haven’t won a road game since beating the Pistons on Dec. 21. The Pistons (14-25) have lost all three head-to-head meetings this season.