Hogg: Tayshaun Prince can help Pistons make playoffs

Tayshaun Prince be getting 20-25 minutes a night at small forward back in Detroit, rotating with Caron Butler.

Tim Fuller/Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Tayshaun Prince could have done things the easy way Sunday.

He could have gotten to the podium and given all of the typical cliches. He could have talked about how moved he was by the pregame standing ovation and how excited he was to be back in Detroit, playing for a team battling for a playoff spot.

For better or worse, that’s not how Prince does things.

He did what anyone who knows him would expect him to do — he said what he really felt, even if it wasn’t going to make anyone particularly happy.

Prince readily acknowledged that he’s angry about being traded away from Boston, and that he’s still upset about the way things were handled when the Pistons sent him to Memphis two years ago. He didn’t smile. He didn’t have the body language of someone who was thrilled to be back in the Motor City. He didn’t even make any effort to pretend.

But at the end of the day, it probably isn’t going to matter. Yes, he’s angry right now, but with the Celtics, not the Pistons. And although he’s not over what happened to him in 2013, that’s an issue between him and former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, not Stan Van Gundy.

The biggest question for Pistons fans isn’t if Prince is happy, but if he can help the team. Judged on what he did in Boston, the answer is clearly that he can.

After two years where he struggled with Memphis, Prince was traded to the Celtics in mid-January. He was there only for a month, but in his nine games, he looked better than he has in several years.

Playing 22 minutes a night off the bench — the same role he will have with the Pistons — he was able to duplicate the level he reached back when Detroit was playing deep into May and June.

"I thought things were going really well in Boston," Prince said. "It didn’t go well in Memphis, and I wasn’t even in the rotation. But in Boston, I was playing well and was mentoring guys, and it was a good situation.

"I can’t play 38-40 minutes a night like before, but I can still go 20-25."

Prince thought he had worked out a deal with Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that would have possibly allowed him to hook up with a contending team for the stretch drive.

"Me and Danny had several conversations, and I knew all the options were on the table because they are trying to go young," Prince said. "I thought I was either going to be in Boston and see whether the buyout happened or not. It wasn’t 100 percent that it would, but I thought no trade was going to happen."

So when Celtics coach Brad Stevens told him Thursday afternoon that he had been traded, Prince felt blindsided. To make it worse, in the chaos of the deadline, Stevens couldn’t even tell Prince where he was headed.

"I didn’t even know where I was going yet," Prince said. "I was pissed off from the get-go. Then I got a call from (Pistons physical therapist) Arnie Kander. And I start getting all these calls from Detroit numbers, and I’m like ‘Hold on. I didn’t get traded to Detroit, did I?’"

He had been, and that brought back memories of another unhappy trade — the one that sent him to Memphis in January 2013.

"This time, even though I didn’t think I was going to get traded, I at least knew there was a chance," Prince said. "Back then, it was a shock. I was in my 11th season here, and I didn’t even get a call until the trade was over. No one discussed it with me before they did it.

"I felt disrespected by that, but that’s a story for back then."

Prince originally thought the Pistons might buy out his contract this time, but he learned differently when he talked to Van Gundy.

"We didn’t trade for Tayshaun to buy him out," Van Gundy, the Pistons’ head coach and president of basketball operations, said. "We bought him because we think he’s a very talented player who can help us make the playoffs. He’s going to be a big part of this team."

Van Gundy knows Prince well — they matched up in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Pistons knocking out Miami — and showed his respect during Sunday’s lopsided win over Washington. With the game locked up in the final minutes and the crowd chanting for Prince, the coach went over to talk to his new player.

"I told him that if I put him in the game, the place was going to explode," Van Gundy said. "But I wouldn’t do that to him. He hasn’t even had a practice with us, so it wouldn’t be fair to him.

"But, most importantly, Tayshaun Prince is not a mop-up guy. The fans will get plenty of chances to cheer him. I promise."

Now that Prince and Van Gundy are on the same page, he’ll be getting 20-25 minutes a night at small forward, rotating with Caron Butler. Prince will also work with Detroit’s younger players — although he wants everyone to know that he’s not coming into town as a glorified assistant coach.

"I want people to be careful when they talk about me mentoring guys because usually when you talk (about) someone doing that, it means they are done as a player," Prince said. "I’m not done. I’m a long way from being done."

If he’s right — and his short stint in Boston seems to indicate that he is — he’s got a real chance of helping the Pistons back into the postseason.

Just don’t ask him to be jolly about it. Even during the best of times, Prince doesn’t do jolly.