Brandon Jennings believes that he has a bright future in the NBA.
The Detroit Pistons point guard just doesn’t know when or where.
The 25-year-old was playing the best basketball of his career last January when he tore his Achilles playing in, of all places, Milwaukee. Jennings was in his second season with the Pistons after being traded away from the Bucks, but things were finally going well.
Now he doesn’t know when he’ll be back, and how he’ll fit into a team that’s now paying Reggie Jackson $16 million a year to play his position.
“Bringing in Reggie was smart, because I’m supposed to be out, really, for nine months, and they needed a point guard,” he told a CSN podcast. “My main thing is to get healthy. If I have to come off the bench and be the sixth man or whatever, I’m fine with that. I just want to play basketball again.”
Jennings and Josh Smith were Joe Dumars’s two big acquisitions for the 2013-14 season, but their styles didn’t mesh at all, and the fourth quarter of close games often turned into both of them trying to take over games while their teammates stood and watched.
That didn’t change in Stan Van Gundy’s first year, but Van Gundy got sick of it in a hurry. At Christmas, with the Pistons at 5-23, he waived Smith, meaning the team would have to eat most of his contract.
Everything changed at that point. The Pistons won 12 of their next 15 games, including road wins against Cleveland, San Antonio, Dallas and Toronto, and with two of the three losses coming to Atlanta. In less than a month, they’d gone from one of the league’s biggest jokes to a serious contender for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Jennings was the star of the surge, averaging 20.0 points and 7.2 assists while turning the ball over less than twice a game. He put an exclamation point on the run on Jan. 21, putting up 24 points and 21 assists in a win over Orlando – the first 20/20 by a Pistons point guard since Isiah Thomas.
It all came crashing to a halt on Jan. 24, when Jennings cleanly tore his Achilles in a non-contact injury in Milwaukee. Jennings headed to rehab, and Detroit’s playoff chances slipped away. They went 15-24 the rest of the season, and could never put together a sustained run for the eighth spot.
However, they also did something that changed Jennings’s future. At the trade deadline, the Pistons acquired Jackson from Oklahoma City, and in 27 games, he averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists, including a 20-20 game of his own.
With Jennings facing an uncertain future, the Pistons had to lock up Jackson – a restricted free agent – but Van Gundy stunned the league by giving him a five-year, $80 million deal.
Jennings knows that means that he’s no longer the point guard of Detroit’s future, and trade rumors are already circulating as to where he’ll end up when he’s healthy.
At the moment, though, he’s only focused on returning to the point where Van Gundy will have to make decisions about him, both as the team’s president and coach.
“I’m going to come back when I’m ready,” he said on the podcast. “I don’t know if I’ll be ready for training camp – I don’t know for sure. I’m definitely going to take my time through training camp and the preseason.
“I probably won’t be back to myself until at least around December, that’s for sure.”