Stan Van Gundy made it clear the day he took over the Detroit Pistons that he was going to build his franchise around Andre Drummond.
That wasn’t a surprise – Drummond only turned 22 on Monday, but he’s already had three highly productive seasons in the league, including two where he averaged more than 13 points and 13 rebounds. There isn’t a team in the NBA that wouldn’t love to have him on the roster.
No, Van Gundy’s surprise came from with his choice to run his offense. As he did with Dwight Howard, Van Gundy plans to surround Drummond with three-point shooters, spreading the defense and giving his young center plenty of space near the rim.
By trading for Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris to go along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Van Gundy hopes he has his three-point shooters, but there’s one more crucial piece. He needs a point guard who can attack the space provided by the wing players, and who can make smart decisions with the basketball.
Van Gundy has gone all in on his choice – Reggie Jackson.
The Pistons acquired Jackson from Oklahoma City after Brandon Jennings suffered a torn Achilles, and were thrilled with the production he provided down the stretch. In 27 games with Detroit, he averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists, including a 23-point, 20-assist masterpiece against the Grizzlies. That was only the second time a Pistons player had put up 20 points and 20 assists since Isiah Thomas was in his prime.
That was enough to earn him a five-year, $80 million contract, but it also pointed out one of the issues with committing so much to Jackson’s future.
You see, the only other Pistons point guard to put up a 20/20 since Isiah is Jennings, and he also did it last season. He put up 24 points and 21 assists on Jan. 21, just three days before his season-ending injury.
Obviously, the Pistons couldn’t go into this season counting on Jennings to be their top point guard. He’s not expected to be ready for the start of training camp, and it isn’t clear if he’ll be ready to go by the start of the regular season. Even if he makes those deadlines, the conventional wisdom is that it takes a guard another year from the time they return from an Achilles injury to get back to their previous form.
Jennings is young – he’ll turn 26 just before camp, and is only a few months older than Jackson – so he might come back faster than other players who’ve had the injury, but Van Gundy can’t take that chance.
Since Jennings and Jackson are too small to play together and Detroit’s roster also includes second-year point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and veteran Steve Blake, the best-case scenario would be Jennings making a speedy, full recovery and being traded. He’s set to make $8.3 million this upcoming season on the last year of a three-year contract, so at anything close to 100 percent, he’d be a target for any contender looking to strengthen themselves at the point.
Either way, Van Gundy’s rebuilding plan doesn’t work if Jackson turns into the same kind of free-agent albatross as the ones that got Joe Dumars fired after 30 years with the franchise. Mention Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and Josh Smith to Pistons fans and wait for the screams.
If Jackson performs like he did at the end of last season, possibly with fewer turnovers, Van Gundy could come out looking like a genius. With the salary cap poised to explode in the next few years, $80 million might look like a bargain by the end of the contract.
On the other hand, if he reverts to the Jackson who played in Oklahoma City, averages half as many assists per 36 minutes and struggles to shoot 30 percent from the three-point line, the cap can’t possibly go high enough to hide a bad $80 million contract.
One way or the other, Jackson’s deal is going to have an enormous impact on Van Gundy’s legacy in Detroit.