AUBURN HILLS – Swapping for Avery Bradley gives the Pistons one of the league’s top two-way backcourt players and a potential All-Star. Targeting and landing Langston Galloway in free agency, Stan Van Gundy believes, will prove an underrated win for the Pistons. Luke Kennard’s nearly 50 percent 3-point shooting in Summer League generate positive early vibes for their draft yield.
But the thing that would make the Pistons most immediately and profoundly better in 2017-18 than anything: a healthy Reggie Jackson.
“We’ve said that all along,” Van Gundy acknowledged. “Internally, too, and talking with Tom (Gores, Pistons owner). There’s really no substitute for that. The guy was one of the best offensive players in the NBA and then had health problems. Getting him back would be the biggest improvement we could make.”
About that last part: all signs are positive. Jackson is nearing the end of a 16-week program designed to both minimize the stress that caused the bout of tendinosis in his knee and build up his body to help ward off further incidents. He’s been focused on strength and flexibility training under the eye of Pistons physical therapist Mark Cranston, “who has spent pretty much the whole summer with Reggie monitoring his rehab out there in Los Angeles,” Van Gundy said.
Jackson flew to Michigan for Bradley’s press conference last month and oozed confidence that he’d be back to his 2015-16 form when camp opened.
“I’m great,” he said. “As soon as we get back to camp, I’m excited to play with (Bradley).”
Over the first week of training camp last season, Jackson made Van Gundy’s pulse race frequently as he watched him dominate scrimmages, expecting his point guard to take another leap over a 2015-16 performance in which Jackson led the Pistons in scoring (18.8) and assists (6.2) while steering them to 44 wins and the playoffs.
“He was fantastic,” Van Gundy said. “That’s what made it more disappointing with the injury. He had been incredible. I mean, dominant. That’s the level he wants to get back to and then it’s sort of getting reintegrated, too. There’s new people and a lot of those guys he hasn’t played with. So it’ll take some time.”
But Van Gundy, too, sensed Jackson’s renewed enthusiasm after a trying season that beat him up mentally and emotionally after struggling upon his return to a Pistons team that had survived his absence, going 11-10 in the 21 games he missed to start the season. A fresh start with a healthy and newly confident Jackson would get training camp and the 2017-18 season launched with momentum.
“We’re really excited about that,” Van Gundy said. “When he gets back on the floor going full speed, it’s going to be really, just for him, gaining that confidence back that he has the explosion and everything that he had in the past. I think whenever he gets that, he’ll be fine. And I think it’ll come quickly because, again, he didn’t have a surgical procedure. It’s just trying to get the tendinitis under control and taking a long-term approach to it. So we’re getting him back and strengthened and everything around that is ready to go.”
Jackson returned in early December after an early-October platelet-rich plasma injection. Even though the knee was fit, the fact he’d been essentially idled for two months while allowing the treatment to run its course affected his conditioning and diminished his lower-body strength and explosiveness. He never really caught up.
“I don’t think he ever had a 100 percent confidence that he was where he needed to be,” Van Gundy said. “So it’s got to be both. We’ve got to take care of the physical side of it, but we’ve also got to rehab him in such a way that he feels good and confident about it. This process this summer was longer and slower. They put him on a 16-week program, one where the doctors have had a lot of success with that protocol, and as it goes along Reggie is having great confidence in that. He’s not going too fast. This is the way it should go.”
And in that, the hope – the expectation – is that the Pistons 2017-18 season will go the way it should go, the way Van Gundy expected the 2016-17 season to go during that first dazzling week of Reggie Jackson’s training camp.