Pistons welcome back veteran McGruder after deal comes unraveled

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Sacramento — The NBA can be very unforgiving for building brotherhood bonds and putting roots into a city as a new home and other players as teammates.

It could be here one day and gone the next. Such was the case with Pistons guard Rodney McGruder, who has been one of the Pistons’ veteran role players for the past two seasons. Last week, the Pistons were looking to advance their rebuild by trading McGruder and getting a nice young prospect in Denver’s Bol Bol.

Pistons guard Rodney McGruder (17) attempts a layup as Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge (21)

The trade was rescinded because of concerns with Bol’s medical situation, a potentially awkward ending that sent everybody back to their original teams.

“It was different. In this business, it's part of the business. You only can control what you can control,” McGruder said. “It was a lot of travel; it was kind of tough. I met the team in Los Angeles and flew with the team to Denver and I was there about a day and a half.”

McGruder didn’t get to play any games with the Nuggets because trades are contingent on all the players passing their physicals. It was a different team, with a winning record, but McGruder didn’t even get settled in before it was time to get back to Detroit.

He didn’t get much time with his short-term teammates, either, but when he returned to the Pistons, it was almost like he had never left.

“It just felt right back at home when I came back. I just came out of COVID protocols the week before that, so I was away from the team, so it didn't really feel that strange,” McGruder said. “I believe that might have made it feel like nothing really happened. Just me missing a week, and then that I missed the team for another week because of the trade and everything like that.

“The guys welcomed me back. It is a family and a brotherhood in that locker room, so even if the trade went through and I played in Denver, it still would have been all love and it still would have been the same when I saw those guys. It's just a testament to our brotherhood.”

In his first game back since the trade, McGruder had himself a game. In Tuesday night’s lopsided loss to the Golden State Warriors, McGruder had one of the best games of his career, with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 on 3-pointers. It was three points off his career high, and given that his playing time is sporadic at best, it’s a testament to his professionalism.

“He's a pro, and for him to come out and compete after being traded and stuck in Denver and not knowing what's going to happen, I appreciate that,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I know our organization appreciates his effort and the way he approaches the game. This last part of the season is about figuring out who is a part of the core and who's going to be a big part of our future.

“Rodney has set the tone as being one of those vets that you've got to have, and (Tuesday night was) a great example.”

Ready for action

It’s one thing to come off the bench cold and go in and score a couple of points in game. McGruder does that fairly often, but his 19-point performance showed that he’s just different, ready for the call whenever it comes.

That’s not easy for most veterans to do, but it’s become routine for McGruder, with some help and focus.

“I just say it's my faith. It's just my faith, my trust in the Lord and who I believe in,” he said. “That's the most critical thing of being a pro's pro. You have to have a stable foundation to lean or when things don't go the way you want them to go. My faith and what I depend on, that's what allowed me to be a pro.”

McGruder is a favorite of many of the younger players, who value his veteran leadership and how he interacts with them. Even in a dreary game, seeing McGruder have a big game was valuable.

“It was great to see him go out and ball. I'm sure it felt great for him,” center Isaiah Stewart said. “He's just an example of a true professional, coming in and doing his job.”

Roster updates

The Pistons are getting closer to getting Kelly Olynyk back, as he was upgraded to probable for Wednesday’s game at Sacramento. Frank Jackson was assigned to the Motor City Cruise for return to competition reconditioning. He could rejoin the Pistons toward the end of the road trip.

Closing in on return, Pistons big man Olynyk eager to get back in flow

Jerami Grant and Luka Garza were put in health and safety protocols on Wednesday, the team announced. They will be in protocols for at least five days, or they can exit protocols if they have to negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

Killian Hayes had another injury setback on Tuesday as well. He suffered a right hip contusion and didn’t return to the game in the second half.

“It tightened up on him. I don't know what the prognosis is going to be. He got out and was going to see how it was, and he just couldn't get it going,” Casey said.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard