He may not be the most visible player on the roster for fans, but Rodney McGruder is beloved by the Detroit Pistons. His presence in the locker room and willingness to mentor young players has endeared him to his teammates and to the coaching staff.
He’s been an integral part of the Pistons’ “retooling” strategy, which includes high-character veterans who can set the right example every day. And he’s embraced being in the organization. When he had his introductory news conference in December, he said he immediately thought of the “Bad Boys” Pistons team when his agent told him he had been traded to Detroit.
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After home games, it’s common for the Pistons’ young players to take extra time on the court with trainers to get shots up. On at least one occasion, McGruder joined the young players to help.
Following Saturday night’s 118-91 road loss to the Golden State Warriors, McGruder found himself in the national spotlight for unrelated reasons. As his teammates walked back to the locker room, McGruder approached the Warriors’ tunnel to confront Juan Toscano-Anderson, who did not play but exchanged words with Wayne Ellington earlier in the game.
Two of Golden State’s stars, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, used the postgame moment as an opportunity to insult McGruder. Thompson suggested that McGruder isn’t good enough to play in the NBA, while Green criticized his “tough guy” act. The videos of their insults went viral on social media Saturday night, and prompted Ellington to defend his teammate on Sunday.
“I think it’s very unprofessional and definitely not classy for someone to attack Rodney’s professional career the way it was attacked,” Ellington said. “Rodney, I’ve known him since we played in Miami together with the Heat, and he’s one of the most hardworking and humble, down to earth guys that there is in this league. For someone to attack him like that is very unfair.”
Ellington’s defense of McGruder underscored the disparity between Green and Thompson — two of the NBA’s most well-known stars and future Hall of Famers — and McGruder, a respected role player who went undrafted in 2013 and spent several seasons in the G League before establishing his place in the NBA in 2016 with the Miami Heat. And Ellington’s comments highlighted that the Pistons appreciate what McGruder has brought to the team and have his back.
McGruder, 29, arrived in Detroit in November, as part of the three-team trade that sent Luke Kennard to the Los Angeles Clippers and yielded the Pistons the chance to draft Saddiq Bey. Facing a roster crunch, it was initially reported that the Pistons would waive-and-stretch McGruder. Instead, Detroit parted ways with Musa, a third-year forward.
He, along with the Pistons’ other veterans, have embraced mentoring and setting a positive example for the young players on the roster. Everyone praises his professionalism.
McGruder also has ties to Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, a fellow Washington Archbishop Carroll High School alumnus who thinks McGruder isn’t recognized enough for what he’s brought to the franchise.
“Rodney McGruder doesn’t get enough credit for being one of those guys, but he’s been tremendous,” Weaver said earlier this month. “A tremendous worker, tremendous kid who’s dear to my heart. It was funny, we acquired him in a trade, but his father and I grew up in the same neighborhood. … It’s really cool to see him turn into this young man, he’s very professional. He’s been great with the young guys.”
Thompson, out for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon during the offseason, joined the Warriors’ TV broadcast for Saturday’s game. As the cameras caught McGruder walking toward the Warriors bench, Thompson unloaded.
Rodney McGruder walked over to the Warriors bench after the game so the broadcast team asked Klay Thompson what was going on:
“This dude might be out the league soon, he might be mad about that. Who knows.” pic.twitter.com/dHEXu6dBqf
— Sam Hustis (@SamHustis) January 31, 2021
“I don’t know, this dude might be out of the league soon, he’s probably mad about that, who knows,” Thompson said. “He’s over here trying to start something like he’s a good player. Get out of here.”
During his postgame news conference, Green added on in a two-minute, expletive-laced rebuttal.
“When the (expletive) did Rodney McGruder become the tough guy of the team?” Green said.
Ellington and McGruder were teammates for three seasons in Miami. Toscano-Anderson, inactive on Saturday, said something to Ellington earlier in the game that McGruder took offense to. McGruder approached Toscano-Anderson after the game, and Ellington said he believed it was to clear the air.
“Rod’s a man of respect, like myself, and I felt like he took offense to whatever the guy was talking to me in the first half,” Ellington said. “I just kinda laughed it off and kept on going, but obviously it stuck with Rod. And as my brother, he took it upon himself to go and check the temperature on the situation. And that’s what men do. We talk to each other eye to eye, face to face. There’s never been any type of ‘tough guy’ approach with Rod.”
“For Draymond to sit up and talk all that type of crazy stuff behind the microphone, I think that’s the tough fake tough guy stuff, to be honest with you,” he continued. “I’m only going to talk about that situation once, man, and put it behind us, but I thought it was unfair for those guys to attack my man like that, and I appreciate Rod and I love him like a brother for whatever he did do, that I know wasn’t tough guy stuff. He probably walked over there to try to clear the air with the guy.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Pistons teammate defends Rodney McGruder, calls out Draymond Green