Put your hand up if you thought Brandon Jennings would be the voice of reason for the Detroit Pistons in 2016 when the Pistons acquired him in the summer of 2013. Is your hand up? Ok then, we've identified the liars of the group. After an underwhelming performance in New Orleans, Jennings voiced his displeasure with the team's lack of leadership. You know what, he's right.
The Pistons were an afterthought throughout the league when Stan Van Gundy accepted the position as the team's head coach and President; turning around a franchise and changing the culture of a loser would be no easy task. Sitting at 23-20, the Pistons are ahead of whatever timeline most reasonable people could've expected. To take the next step though, the Pistons individually and collectively as a team must form an identity. Forming an identity can serve many purposes, none more important than a being a crutch the team can lean on when they're off their game.
Using the New Orleans game as an example: It was the second night of a back-to-back against a team they should beat. They came out flat and gave up 72 first half points. With the Pelicans on cruise control, the Pistons faded away with little fight. In an 82 game season, teams can easily lose focus once or twice but the Pistons have been way too inconsistent to use that excuse. SVG noted the team offered little in the effort department and with a team that has achieved zero sustained success, effort should never come into question. A leader doesn't let that happen.
You can't force leadership
Hey there, starting now you're the leader. Now go out and lead us.
It doesn't work that way. Sure, the keys have been handed to Reggie Jackson but leadership in team sports is an organic process. Jackson asked for a team to call his own and now he's smack dab in the middle of that wish. For the first time in his professional career, he's the one the cameras are on when the team isn't performing. For most first timers, that's an overwhelming feeling.
The exact definition of leadership is hard to determine. Is the leader of the team the most vocal? Maybe. Is the leader of the team the hardest worker? Usually. Does he always take the last shot? No. This line of questioning could go on and on.
Make no mistake, if the Pistons are going to succeed with this core group of players, it's Reggie Jackson that must lead them but with no clear definition of "leadership", where does he begin?
Stages of a leader
All true new leaders start off the same, humble and coachable. Without those two traits engrained in their DNA, their leadership is a fraud. The world is full of false bravado; B.S on the NBA stage is easily detectable and if players sense a wishy-washy captain, the team is lost.
This is the exact stage Jackson finds himself in.
Sooner or later, a self aware light bulb must go off in Jackson's head in regards to his consistency. How many times in the post game press conference has SVG harped on effort or should I say lack thereof? It's not rocket science or a complicated algorithm: the Pistons win when Jackson plays well. At this point in his career, whether or not Jackson agrees with the coaching assessment isn't the point. Van Gundy has been known to ride players to the point of breaking them. He demands the most out of the players with the most promise. In Orlando, the constant head butting took a toll on Dwight Howard but would anyone confuse Howard with a being a leader? That title is not for everyone. For Jackson to be taken seriously, he must take what the coach says to heart.
The best leaders in sports have the ability to detach themselves from high pressure situations and focus on the end goal. If Jackson gets moody after a January loss in New Orleans, how's he going to handle a post season run? That's the next step and fortunately, experience is the best teacher and this stage is an acquired taste. In this case, time is on Jackson's side as no one is in championship or bust mode.
Finally, Jackson has to balance out all of his responsibilities. He must be the coach on the court and the epitome of the team's identity off the court. He must walk the walk and talk the talk. This past offseason, Jackson said all the right things but eventually, his actions should speak louder.
It's there for the taking
When Jennings made those comments about the team being void of a leader, was that a not-so-subtle hint towards Jackson? Maybe. The book on Reggie Jackson and this Pistons team is far from being finished, and everything is in place for Jackson to step up and be the leader this team desperately needs.