MILWAUKEE – As eight years with the Toronto Raptors ended, Jose Calderon had finally arrived to inevitability. He knew the likelihood of a trade that would leave him elsewhere and it came to fruition in a three-team deal sending him to the Detroit Pistons. Still, there was an emotional moment for Calderon once he heard about the closure with his first organization outside of Spain, and then came bracing for a more permanent move to the United States, bracing for new challenges.
Just four games in, Calderon has already injected the Pistons with a new sense of confidence. Lawrence Frank marvels about Calderon’s calmness and leadership, and the coach has begun to rely upon the 31-year-old to smooth over the offense and, more importantly, rub his knowledge on Brandon Knight. The Pistons undoubtedly remain confident in Knight as their point guard of the future, but they realize this trade will be most successful if Knight absorbs Calderon’s pace-changing brilliance and approach toward running the offense.
Calderon has been received well within the Pistons’ locker room, reuniting with former teammate Charlie Villanueva. And if there’s anyone who can spark the maligned Villanueva, it’s his ex-point guard on the Raptors, Calderon. For Calderon, the first step was to prove that he can play at a high level and the 23 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three 3-pointers he dropped in Saturday night’s 105-100 road win over the Bucks will go a long way.
He has embraced the challenges so far, met with one sense of responsibility: Helping everyone. From Knight and Villanueva to Greg Monroe and eventually Andre Drummond, Calderon knows he’ll need to have a leadership impact on all of them, understanding the endless push needed in this process – whether it leads to a strong fight for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference or a surprise playoff appearance.
“For sure, I’m going to try to help Brandon,” Calderon told RealGM. “I’m here to help everybody try to get this team better and try to get everybody better. That’s what I try to do all the time and we can win more games good. I’m here for whatever they need me to do.”
With his fingerprints all over the Pistons’ free-flowing offense over the past four games, the transformation Calderon has brought to them is clear so far. The ball isn’t sticking without movement for long stretches anymore. There’s constant pace, constant direction from Calderon.
So far, Calderon has been everywhere, even tipping in a missed layup by Knight on a two-on-two fastbreak in the first quarter Saturday. So far, so good, and Calderon is confident in the growth that remains.
“It’s going pretty good, it’s going to be better,” Calderon said. “There have only been four games and a couple practices. We just need some time, but I feel comfortable with these guys. They’ve treated me great, they’re welcoming with open arms, and I’m really happy with the way they’ve been treating me so far.”
Frank has already made clear his faith in Calderon by starting him from the jump. When there were lulls and careless mistakes for the Pistons on Saturday, Frank turned to Calderon, wanting him to be aggressive in stabilizing the offense. At the same time, Calderon never looks in a rush offensively and brings unselfishness that showed in a big way late in the fourth quarter when he appeared to have an easy layup as he drove right but swung the ball out beyond the arc to Villanueva – who missed this attempt before ultimately hitting the game-winning three-pointer.
“That’s what a point guard does,” Frank said. “Not just settling us down, but making some key shots. To have [Calderon] to be able to give confidence to the group with his play, he’s impressive.”
There was always a feeling in Calderon’s mind that a trade out of Toronto was inevitable, a process quickened this season given his expiring contract. The two sides probably would have been better off parting ways a few years ago to give the Raptors value and Calderon more years on his career to play for a contending team. Yet each season, Calderon would show them his worth, show them reasons to wait.
In the end, Calderon’s value only grew and the Pistons found themselves with a deal that added a steady guard and moved Tayshaun Prince’s contract.
“The whole summer last year I felt like a trade could happen,” Calderon said. “I knew I was an expiring contract and it could happen any time. But until it arrives, it’s kind of weird. Yeah, it’s in the back of your mind, but it’s tough to leave after never being traded before.”
Over nearly eight seasons with the Raptors, Calderon developed comfort within the organization and city. He admits he doesn’t have a desire to bounce around at this point in his career, but he also understands the flexibility he’ll have this offseason. Yes, Calderon hasn’t made up his mind on his upcoming free agency. But for now, Calderon sees no reason why Detroit shouldn’t be his preference and where he can envision himself long-term.
“Yeah, I can for sure,” Calderon said. “At the end of the day, it’s an NBA team. I know everybody is asking me about that, but we’ll see what happens. Every door is going to be open. These guys are treating me great and let’s see how we finish the season. But yeah, for now I’d like to [stay].”