ORLANDO – Eric Moreland knew the Pistons had a need for a No. 3 center when he chose to join their Summer League team over other offers. But it wasn’t that Moreland felt he was auditioning for that job as much as he saw it as his best chance to audition for all 30 NBA teams.
That’s the reality for all players in Moreland’s situation who came to Orlando or Las Vegas every summer looking to land one of the 450 most coveted jobs in the basketball-playing world.
Through the first two games of Summer League, Moreland has done about all he could to state his case that he deserves one of those jobs – or perhaps one of the 60 more than have been created with the addition of two “two-way” contracts per team. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots through two games with three more to go.
“Never satisfied,” Moreland said after Sunday’s 103-78 romp over New York when asked if he was pleased with his performances. “We’re going to go back and watch the tape, figure out what I need to do better.”
Pressed and asked if he was “happy,” Moreland said, “I’m happy to be healthy. Happy to be out there.”
Moreland almost gave the Pistons a shot two years ago when they invited him to training camp, but opted to return to Sacramento for the 2015-16 season after sticking with the Kings as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2014. Injuries – a shoulder and a foot – marred his first two NBA seasons and last year Moreland played with the D-League’s Canton Charge, averaging 12.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots.
Teams often settle for one outstanding trait or another when settling on a No. 3 center. Maybe a player with 3-point shooting range to offer offensive diversity, maybe a shot-blocker, maybe a physical defender or someone who sets solid screens and can pass to facilitate offense without necessarily offering a scoring threat.
Moreland offers a little more than a typical third center. He isn’t a scoring threat outside the paint, but he checks off a lot of other boxes as a shot-blocker, finisher at the rim and mobile defender who runs the floor well.
The Pistons have more than $30 million of cap money – or more than 30 percent of the $99 million cap amount for 2017-18 – tied up in Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic. Stan Van Gundy made clear last week before free agency opened that the third center would play on a league-minimum contract.
“I think with Andre, Boban, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson at 6-11, that would be probably not the place we’d tend to spend money. So I don’t think we’re going to be able to be as picky in terms of the type we want. We’re going to get somebody we like, that’s all. It could be more of a skill, finesse, passing guy; it could be more of an energy, effort guy. When it gets to the point of somebody’s ready to agree on that, it’ll be who’s left. It’s not like on the minimum, you’re picking.”
Besides the playing time the Pistons offered, Moreland considered what he knew of Van Gundy’s preferences in choosing them.
“Stan likes gritty guys and Stan likes hard-nosed guys that get their nose in there and play hard and I feel like that’s exactly what I do, so wanted to give a chance for them to see me close and in person and right in front of their face, do exactly what I do best,” he said. “I decided to go with Detroit and I’m thinking it was the right move.”
For whatever voice the two most important players on the Summer League roster, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard, will have in the matter, Moreland has earned strong endorsements.
“Eric Moreland is really fun to play with just because he makes your job easier in terms of rim protection,” Ellenson said. “If your guy’s getting past you, he’s going over. He’s aggressive on the defensive end going to block the shot. It’s huge. Playing with guys like that’s a lot of fun because it makes your job that much easier.”
“He always plays with an engine. He’s got a motor that’s kind of contagious,” Kennard said of the 6-foot-10 Moreland, who has a 7-foot-3½ wing span. “He is a big body, he’s very physical, really talented and skilled. He’s all over the boards and wherever the ball is, he’s around it. It’s fun to play with a guy like that. I love playing with him.”
The expectation heading into free agency was that the No. 3 center spot would take a while to get filled. On the players’ end of it, few rush to sign a minimum-wage deal. On the Pistons’ end, there could be advantages to keeping the roster spot open to help facilitate trades between now and training camp. So the likelihood is that Summer League passes without a deal in place for Moreland.
“We’re looking at guys all across the spectrum as the third center in terms of experience and what type of player they are,” Van Gundy said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that we like. When you’re going more than likely at the minimum, those things are going to take longer. People aren’t going to jump on those right away and you’re not going to have your choice of people. So we have a group of guys that we like and you hope you can get one of ’em.”
The fact the Pistons now have twice expressed interest in Moreland – in 2015 and again this summer – suggests he’s in that “group of guys” they like. Chances are they like him a little more today than they did a week ago.