AUBURN HILLS – What’s the equivalent of Luis Montero sticking on an NBA roster after one year of community college basketball? Taking an on-line cooking class and getting hired at a Michelin three-star restaurant in Paris? Singing in a karaoke bar one week and winning a Grammy the next?
But that’s just what Montero did two years ago after Westchester (N.Y.) Community College dropped basketball amid an academic scandal. Montero ponders his options and actually enrolled at South Plains College, a junior college in Lubbock, Texas. But, at 21, he decided the clock was ticking and entered his name for the 2015 NBA draft.
“I didn’t want to be too old and go to university and then go to the draft, so I decided to go,” said Montero, who last month became the first player the Pistons signed to the NBA’s newly created two-way contracts that limit their time with the parent team to 45 days during the G League calendar. It means Montero will spend most of his time with the Grand Rapids Drive, but he’ll be available to the Pistons, as well.
The Pistons see in Montero what led Portland to keep him around for all of the 2015-16 season: a rangy wing defender with fluid shooting mechanics that could add up to an intriguing 3-and-D prospect. That’s what they were looking for in a two-way candidate, Stan Van Gundy said.
“A bigger, longer wing guy who could defend that we thought had some real developmental upside,” he said of Montero, a 6-foot-7 native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the Boston area in 2011 through a family connection to Orlando Antigua, now an assistant coach at Illinois.
The Pistons scouting staff was well aware of Montero via the 2015 draft process, his time with Portland and last season’s 49 D-League games with Reno and Sioux Falls. They also had the word of former assistant Brendan Malone, a lifelong New Yorker who still scouts for the organization and saw Montero frequently last summer playing in the city, where he has family.
“Luis excited us,” Van Gundy said. “He’s got a really good defensive disposition. He can move his feet. He’s got some offensive skill, too, and some size.”
The Pistons signed Montero for two years, giving them plenty of time to work with him and get a handle on his potential. As for the defensive disposition, Van Gundy caught an eyeful of it in the Summer League finale when Montero, playing for Dallas, draped himself over Luke Kennard to the point Bob Beyer and his Pistons coaching staff frequently suggested officials needed to blow the whistle a little more often.
“That’s how I play all the time,” Montero said this week. “I think they got really, really mad at me every time I was guarding him. They’d be like, ‘What the bleep?’ I don’t care. That’s how I play defense. I know they get (annoyed). I’m OK with that.”
Montero made 9 of 15 3-point shots over five games with Dallas in the Orlando Summer League. He rebounds his position well, too, averaging 6.2 in 24 minutes a game for the Mavericks, who beat the Pistons in the Summer League title game to finish 5-0. Montero played similarly well in five games with Sacramento in the Las Vegas Summer League and, he says, had opportunities to sign two-way contracts with both the Mavs and Kings.
“The Pistons got ahold of me after Summer League in Vegas,” Montero said. “It’s a great organization, great coaching staff. I think it’s a good opportunity to be here, working out to be better. That’s the best opportunity for me.”
Van Gundy said if the right player came along, the Pistons would add a second two-way contract. The priority would be a point guard to develop since the Pistons will go to camp with only Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith as pure point guards and Langston Galloway, expected to play more at shooting guard, as No. 3 on the depth chart.
But with Montero signed for two years, the Pistons will be judicious in offering a two-way deal to another player.
“You can only have two at a time,” Van Gundy said. “You’d either do a one-year (contract) or, if somebody really excited you, you’d go ahead and do (a two-year deal). Right now we don’t have a guy we would want to do that with, but that could change. Luis excited us. Only if somebody really excited us would we do that because it would basically mean you couldn’t do one next year.”