Jonas Jerebko's career arch with the Detroit Pistons was a weird one. He consistently improved over his six-year run with the team, going from an energy player to a skilled, versatile forward. He overcame challenges such as a ruptured achilles and convoluted depth charts.
Yet Jerebko's minutes dropped each season. After emerging as a fan and coach favorite as a rookie, starting 73 games and playing 2,232 minutes, he would eventually fall increasingly out of favor with each of his subsequent four coaches he played under in Detroit.
As something of a combo forward, he faced an additional challenge over the past two seasons when Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to play both small and power forward. The move essentially left Jerebko as the odd man out of the rotation.
Jerebko made an early impression with new coach Stan Van Gundy this season by standing out over the summer, prompting Van Gundy to stretch his rotation deeper than initially planned in order to get Jerebko on the floor. Despite the small allocation of minutes, Jerebko responded with strong play through the first two months of the season.
When Smith was waived on December 22, it looked like the door was finally opened for Jerebko to return to the kind of minutes he earned early in his career. But an innocuous December 24 trade of Tony Mitchell for Anthony Tolliver quickly shut that door.
In the 11 games following dropping Smith, Jerebko did jump to 22 minutes per game in which he offered effective play with 6.4 points per game on a 46/39/78 percent shooting line along with 5 rebounds and two assists.
But with Tolliver's quick trigger from three point range, he began to push Jerebko out of the rotation once again. Jerebko has always been an efficient player, but also a bit cautious. Where he shot 3.9 three pointers per 36 minutes, Tolliver was much more aggressive putting up 7.1 attempts.
By the time the trade deadline rolled around, Jerebko was back to 11 minutes per game and 5 DNPs. The Pistons were involved in a flurry of activity at the deadline, moving D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler for Reggie Jackson and Jerebko and Luigi Datome to the Boston Celtics for Tayshaun Prince.
Trading Jerebko and Datome may have been as much of a favor by Van Gundy to put the two in a new environment where they could potentially find a larger role as it was about improving the team. Jerebko went on to become a consistent contributor off the bench for Boston, also getting the chance to play in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
And it turned out that the Pistons wound up missing him after the trade. With Jackson sharing the paint with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the team struggled mightily out of the trade deadline. After losing 10 straight games, Monroe curiously missed significant time for the first time in his career by sitting out 11 games with a sore knee.
The Pistons eventually got things back on track, but talent at power forward was a serious issue as the team was forced to lean on Tolliver and waiver wire acquisition Shawne Williams at the position. If Jerebko were still around, might the Pistons have been able to ease the damage of their losing streak earlier and kept themselves in the playoff race?
It was a reminder of the value of Jerebko's skill and versatility, something the Pistons will need to replace this offseason through the draft or free agency. And Jerebko will be a free agent too. But with such a frustrating stay in Detroit for the NBA's first Swedish player, a return isn't likely.