Delon Wright, Wayne Ellington with different type of reunion as Heat take on Pistons

MIAMI — With the Detroit Pistons at Kaseya Center to face the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, the circle of NBA life truly has come full circle for Wayne Ellington and Delon Wright.

Teammates at one point with the Pistons and now in a coach-player partnership with the Heat, Ellington and Wright both reflected wistfully on the 2020-21 season they spent in Detroit.

For Ellington, it was the best shooting season of his career.

For Wright, it was a step toward playing more as a point guard.

“I really, really enjoyed it,” Ellington said with a smile. “It’s funny, we talk about it all the time. I was probably shooting my career best with him as my point guard.

“So obviously, I really enjoyed that.”

Ellington, who went on to play one more season before his playing career came to a close in 2021-22 with the Los Angeles Lakers, said he saw many of the skills then that could help the Heat now, particularly with Kyle Lowry traded and with Josh Richardson dealing with an extended absence with a dislocated shoulder.

“He’s a pass-first point guard, playmaker, defender, smart player, so I thought we really complemented each other well,” Ellington, 36, said.

Two years after that partnership, Ellington approached Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about continuing in the game as a coach, with this his first season in that role, found nightly sitting behind the Heat bench.

Then, after the Feb. 8 NBA trading deadline, Wright, 31, requested and received a buyout from the Washington Wizards, with two of those reunion games also remaining on the Heat schedule.

“He’s still a similar player,” Ellington said of their playing days together. “Obviously he’s more experienced now.”

While the playing time has been limited, particularly with Terry Rozier making it back sooner than might have been anticipated from what initially appeared to be a worrisome knee sprain, Wright’s opportunities have been limited.

But Ellington said he has seen enough to remember the two-way contributor that Wright yet might stand as during this playoff race.

“He’s somebody who’s really disruptive on the defensive end of the floor,” Ellington said.

Wright said Ellington was a mentor then, remains a mentor now.

“When I was playing with him, he was later in his career,” Wright, the brother of former Heat forward Dorell Wright said. “He was one of those guys that was helping out the younger guys, helping out guys like me.”

That has eased going from a player-player, to play-coach relationship.

“So it’s not too weird,” Wright said.

It has made the transition easier, with Wright in the second week of his Heat tenure.

“If I want to transition in the middle of a season,” Wright said, “Miami was probably the best place to do that, for obvious reasons. And just the culture here, It’s so many things I can say.”

So, yes, back at it, like old times — Tuesday night vs. the Pistons instead of together with the Pistons, when they did their damage together in a different way, as the following Associated Press recap from a game that season showed:

“DETROIT — Delon Wright scored a career-high 28 points and Wayne Ellington had another impressive shooting night for Detroit, leading the Pistons to a 119-104 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.”

On that January night in 2021, Wright said of his then-teammate and now-coach, “We’re going to keep giving him the ball. He’s a great shooter. He helps our offense flow.”

Ellington said he sees a Heat fit because he experienced a fit with Detroit.

“I really enjoyed playing with him,” he said. “He was the point guard that set that table. I’d have him in the top four point guards that I played with in my career.”

Impressive, considering the point guards Ellington played with over his 13 NBA seasons included Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Goran Dragic, Ricky Rubio and numerous others.

So Delon Wright in place of which of those?

That’s when Ellington smiled a wry smile.

“Have to get back to you on that,” he said as he walked away following a Heat practice.