Season Rewind: Joseph again filled any role Pistons asked

Cory Joseph’s NBA career has come full circle in the 12 years since he was drafted as a one-and-done hot-shot by the San Antonio Spurs.

He came to a championship-worthy roster to understudy a pair of future Hall of Fame guards, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and now finds himself at the other end of the spectrum, mentoring high-lottery picks Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Killian Hayes on a rebuilding roster.

Joseph might be closer to the end than the beginning of his career, but he’s nowhere near finished. At 31, he’s got the savvy, skills, versatility and demeanor to remain an effective player for the foreseeable future. His reputation for being a consummate professional is well-earned and widely known. He’ll become a free agent this summer, but the door to a return with the Pistons, by all measure, appears open.

Here’s a look at Joseph’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-3 guard, 31 years old, 12 NBA seasons

2022-23 STATS: 6.9 points, 3.5 assists on .427 shooting and .389 3-point shooting in 20 minutes a game

STATUS: Joseph is a pending free agent after completion of a two-year contract he signed with the Pistons in 2021 that included a player option Joseph exercised for the 2022-23 season.

DID YOU KNOW?: Joseph has worn the uniform of five NBA teams – San Antonio, Toronto, Indiana, Sacramento and Detroit – and has played more than 100 games at each stop. Joseph played 204 games over his first four seasons with San Antonio, then spent two seasons in his hometown of Toronto and played 160 games with the Raptors, followed by 164 – playing all 82 games each season – in his two years in Indiana. Joseph played 116 games in less than two seasons in Sacramento, traded to Detroit in March 2021. He’s played in 146 games for the Pistons.

A LOOK BACK: Joseph left his native Ontario to finish out his prep career in Las Vegas as a highly recruited point guard, spending one year at Texas before declaring for the NBA draft. As third-year player in 2013-14, Joseph was a key bench piece for the NBA championship San Antonio Spurs, averaging 5.0 points and 1.7 assists in 14 minutes a game. As a free agent after the 2014-15 season, Joseph signed with Toronto, joining a Dwane Casey-coached Raptors team pushing to the top of the Eastern Conference. Joseph mostly came off the bench behind Kyle Lowry in his two seasons with the Raptors, but averaged more than 25 minutes a game in his time there. He then signed with Indiana after the 2016-17 season and again played heavy minutes off the bench for most of his time with the Pacers. Joseph switched teams as a free agent a third time after the 2018-19 season, landing in Sacramento. The Kings, striving to end a playoff drought at the 2021 trade deadline, traded Joseph to the Pistons for Delon Wright. 

THE SEASON THAT WAS: After adding Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in the past two drafts, the Pistons were interested in retaining Joseph as a veteran complement to a young backcourt that also included 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes. Joseph wound up taking on a more central role than anticipated when Cunningham was lost for the season after only 12 games. Joseph came off the bench in 60 of his 62 games and continued to provide stability in whatever role asked of him. Joseph continued his improvement as a 3-point shooter, hitting 38.9 percent while taking a career-high 51 percent of his attempts from distance a season after his career-best 41.4 percent 3-point accuracy came on what was then a career-high 39 percent 3-point rate.

A LOOK AHEAD: As a pending free agent, Joseph’s status for 2023-24 is uncertain. Cunningham will be back and Ivey cemented his status as a starter with his remarkable month-over-month progress as a rookie. Hayes will be back for his fourth season and fits best as the point guard with the second unit. While the Pistons surely will want another point guard, and likely a veteran, to supplement the mix, it’s possible Joseph will seek a more prominent role with a veteran team that needs to fill out its rotation with reliable pros on modest contracts to accommodate salary-cap constraints. Casey’s move from the bench to the front office means there’s one less tie binding Joseph to Detroit. The Pistons under Troy Weaver have always looked to supplement a roster of high-ceiling young players with high-character veterans and Joseph epitomizes the qualities they value. A reunion isn’t assured, but there’s every reason it will be considered on both sides.

MONEY QUOTE: “As competitors, as a basketball player, you don’t go out to lose. You want to win games. Ultimately, that’s what makes me smile at night.” – Joseph after scoring 22 points to lead the Pistons to a win over Indiana and snap an 11-game losing streak on March 13