After being with two teams on which he was an afterthought, New Orleans native D.J. Augustin landed in a good spot with the Chicago Bulls in December.
Augustin resuscitated his career with a surprisingly strong season, averaging 14.9 points, 5.0 assists and 40.1 percent 3-point shooting. He played in 61 games, and although nine were starts, averaged 30.4 minutes. Coach Tom Thibodeau said Augustin was a big reason Chicago (48-34) was able to remain a viable playoff contender.
He parlayed that into a two-year, $6 million contract with the Detroit Pistons that he signed on July 15.
“Detroit wanted me,” Augustin said Tuesday during his sixth annual D.J. Augustin Basketball Camp at Xavier University’s Convocation Center.
“I think it will be a good opportunity for me, and I think we’re going to do well.”
Reportedly, the Bulls’ signing of free-agent power forward Pau Gasol made it difficult to retain Augustin. Had Gasol’s former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, been willing to do a sign-and-trade deal, under league rules, Chicago would have had the salary-cap space to keep Augustin.
“I really wanted to be back in Chicago, and they really wanted me back,” said Augustin, who played sparingly with Indiana in 2012-13 then was waived by Toronto before signing with the Bulls. “But it didn’t work out businesswise, and I had to move on.”
The Pistons finished 29-53 under coach Maurice Cheeks last season, 27 games behind in fourth place in the same Central Division as the Bulls. Only Milwaukee, with an NBA-worst 15-67 record, finished behind Detroit in the division.
However, the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy, who guided the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.
They also signed former Lakers guard Jodie Meeks and veteran small forward Caron Butler.
“(Van Gundy) is a hard-nosed coach, kind of like coach Thibs is,” said Augustin, known for his abilities in a pick-and-roll style offense. “He lets you play your game, as long as you play hard. He had Jameer Nelson, when he had Dwight Howard (in Orlando), and I kind of play like Jameer.
“They have some good big men. (Van Gundy) wanted guys who can shoot and spread the floor.”
Center Greg Monroe, another New Orleanian, has been the Pistons’ top player. He and power forward Andre Drummond make for a big, strong tandem in the lane.
Monroe, however, is a restricted free agent. He can sign with another team, but the Pistons can match the offer and keep him. Augustin again looks slotted for a backup role, but time will tell.
The Pistons have flashy Brandon Jennings at point guard, but Augustin appears steadier, more polished and more consistent.
Augustin, however, said he likes the mix of Jennings, Meeks and him.
“I think we’re all pretty smart players,” said Augustin, drafted ninth overall from Texas in 2008 by Charlotte. “You can play us together, too.
“You can switch it around. Whatever my situation is, if I have to come off the bench, I’m going to play hard. We just have to play together.”
Augustin likes the way his camp has come together during its six years. He is most proud of seeing its participants grow up.
“Some of them started off really young and are as tall as me now,” he said. “A couple of them who were in my camp but are too old now for it are playing pretty well in different schools in New Orleans. That’s another thing I’m proud of.
“Kendrick Every is the point guard at Crescent City, and a lot of the kids on his AAU team came to my camp, and now they’re among the top players in New Orleans high school basketball.”
The camp is free. Augustin has watched it grow from 70 to 80 participants when it first began at Brother Martin High School, which he led to two state titles. He said more than 120 participate in the camp now.
Participants are ages 8 to 15. They do skills-enhancement drills during the morning and scrimmage in the afternoon. A highlight is having NBA players such as Jimmy Butler, Augustin’s teammate with the Bulls, talk to them. Center DeSagna Diop is scheduled to talk to them Wednesday.
“The kids see those guys on TV, but they don’t get a chance to spend time with them,” Augustin said. “They get a chance to have fun, learn basketball and interact with guys like us, and it’s free, including lunch and prizes. My parents had to pay for all the camps I went to.
“That’s why I wanted to do a camp like this.”
Augustin said he attended his first camp at age 4, and was always dribbling around in his parents’ house. By age 7, he was on a 10-year-old all-star team.