Steve Blake is in a familiar position.
At 35 years old, he’s joining another new team – one that wouldn’t want him if the circumstances were different.
If Stan Van Gundy lived in an ideal world, the Detroit Pistons would have Reggie Jackson, Brandon Jennings and Spencer Dinwiddie healthy and ready for training camp next week. In that scenario, Jennings would prove that he’s completely healthy after last year’s torn Achilles’ tendon, and Van Gundy could trade him to help fill one of his team’s other holes.
That would leave Jackson as the starter and Dinwiddie as the backup as a bolstered roster makes a bid for the team’s first playoff berth since 2009. Blake would either be on another team, or at home watching on television as a newly retired star.
Instead, with Jennings months away from returning to action and Dinwiddie not having proven himself ready to be a No. 2 point guard for a playoff contender, Van Gundy will be relying on Blake to run his second unit and dish out some veteran advice.
For Blake, that means yet another change of location in a nomadic career. This will be his 13th season in the NBA, but he’s never played more than three full years in the same city. He started his career with two years in Washington, and spent three years with the Lakers from 2010-2013, but his most common home has been with Portland.
Blake has been with the Trail Blazers for four full seasons, but it took him three separate stints stretched over a decade. Usually, though, it’s a year or part of a season in each city. His last team – the Brooklyn Nets – only kept him for 18 days, all during the offseason. He was traded from Portland to the Nets on June 25, and then sent to Detroit in a salary dump on draft night.
Blake spoke to Keith Langlois of Pistons.com about his moves:
“It gets easier,” Blake said. “You just get more comfortable as you get older. You know more guys. They kind of know you. So it’s always a great new experience.”
Blake had hoped to stay in Portland, but he’s happy to end up on Van Gundy’s team:
“You know they’re going to be well coached, well disciplined,” he said. “They’re going to have good game plans and it’s not going to be an easy night. You’re going to hear him barking at guys, making calls. You know they’re engaged and ready to play.”
Having built up years of respect playing against Van Gundy’s teams makes Blake ready to fill whatever role the Pistons need:
“They asked me to just come in and be a backup point guard,” he said. “My role might change throughout the season with Brandon being out and then coming back. Whatever the team needs, that’s why I’m here.”
It’s unclear when Jennings will be back. On Tuesday, there was one report that he’s “not close” to being cleared for basketball activities, followed a few hours later by a report saying that he’d already been cleared.
The best-case scenario has Jennings returning to the floor in late November, while other projections don’t have him coming back until after the New Year. Either way, there’s no way for Jennings or the Pistons to know what level he’ll be able to play at, so Blake is going to be a major part of the rotation for quite awhile. That would mean Detroit will be carrying four point guards on the roster, unless they decide to cut ties with Dinwiddie.
The Pistons have hopes for him – he was Van Gundy’s first draft pick – and he’s shown flashes, but Detroit can’t hope to contend with a backup point guard who shot 19 percent on three-pointers as a rookie and doesn’t have Jackson’s ability to get to the rim.
Even if Jennings does come back at Thanksgiving and plays at a high level, the $80 million contract that Van Gundy gave Jackson in the offseason means that Jennings doesn’t have a long-term future in Detroit. Even with the expected jumps in the salary cap, Detroit can’t afford to give Jennings a competitive contract next summer when they already have a point guard making $16 million a season.
So, unless Jennings has a miraculous healing process and Dinwiddie takes a huge step forward in his first full training camp, Steve Blake has another place to call home for the winter.