AUBURN HILLS – It wasn’t easy to see a path that led Reggie Bullock back to the Pistons, but he suspected there would be one.
“I was actually confident in returning,” Bullock said after re-upping last week as the Pistons put the finishing touches on their roster with him and another familiar face, Anthony Tolliver. “I knew the talk I had with Coach at the end of the season. He told me they were going to try to make a way for me to come back. They believed in me as a player. They loved the way I played. I know the system; I know the organization.”
But the team had some degree of team control over three other options already on the roster as the season ended – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as a restricted free agent and Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije with team options on their rookie deals.
But a chain of events that began with Gordon Hayward choosing to sign with Boston led to the Pistons trading for Avery Bradley and put a Bullock return in play. Without Caldwell-Pope’s contract pushing the Pistons well past the luxury tax threshold – and following decisions to decline the team options on both Hilliard and Gbinije – a reunion with Bullock suddenly made sense for both sides.
The seeds were planted, really, in the postseason review Stan Van Gundy and his staff undertook.
“We did a lot of study as the season was over – both coaches and scouts and front-office people – really looking at our own players,” Van Gundy said. “The thing that came back from almost everybody was that over the last two years, when Reggie has played, the team has played well.”
Some of that is Bullock’s 3-point shooting. On a team that finished 28th in 3-point accuracy last season at .330, Bullock led the Pistons at .384. And that came in the more difficult circumstance of sporadic playing time, largely driven by a string of nicks and bumps around a knee injury that knocked Bullock out for about six weeks. To address that, Bullock made a pilgrimage to the California-based P3 training facility – also used by Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson and many other NBA players – where a plan was devised to foster better injury prevention, focused on increased flexibility.
Just as much as Bullock’s shooting by way of appeal to the Pistons is the way he helps lubricate the gears of offense by moving without the ball and keeping it moving when he gets it.
“It’s even more the way he plays the game. The ball moves when he’s out there,” Van Gundy said. “He makes quick decisions, he moves without the ball and at the other end he defends. He’s a two-way player who helps your team function at both ends of the floor.”
Bullock has played mostly at shooting guard in his two seasons since joining the Pistons along with Marcus Morris in July 2015 from Phoenix. But the depth chart and the NBA’s trend line dictates he’ll probably be primarily a small forward next season with Bradley, Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard bunched at shooting guard.
At small forward, Tobias Harris or Stanley Johnson is the likely starter with Harris probably in line to split time between both forward spots.
“The way the league has gone over the last few years, there’s a lot of guys like Reggie who are twos now playing a lot of three because the league is trending smaller,” Van Gundy said. “When you look at our roster, I think there will be a lot of times we line up out there with essentially three guards where Reggie will be at the three.”
For as much as Van Gundy appreciates some of Bullock’s qualities not easily quantifiable, Bullock’s desire to come back to the Pistons was grounded in his appreciation for how Van Gundy has used him after less satisfactory experiences with the Clippers and Suns.
“I was confident of being able to come back and play for the coach I played for the last two years,” Bullock said, “ that’s given me more opportunity than any other coach has for my career.”