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2017-18 Pistons preview: Is Reggie Jackson worth all the trouble?

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On a team searching for answers, Jackson’s health remains the loudest question being asked.

Chistopher Daniels

Reggie Jackson enters the new year with the same annoying but painfully important question that swallowed all of last season: Is he healthy?

The answer to the not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon inquiry will hold ramifications pertaining to not only the 2017-18 season but moving forward as well. A slow start from an under-performing Jackson could (should) mean the Reggie Era has come to an end while a healthy Jackson could (should) mean a return to the postseason. Either way, Jackson already used his mulligan.

Season in review

October 26th: Season opener against Toronto - DNP/knee. Jackson would go on to miss the Pistons’ first 21 games of the season after dealing with complications from knee tendinitis. Pistons go 11-10 while he’s out.

December 4th: Jackson makes his return at home against Orlando. Optimism is high but Pistons lose 98-92.

From December 16 through the 30th the Pistons lose seven of eight and look downright awful in the process. Jackson remains the starter while Tobias Harris is asked to come off the bench.

January 8th: Jackson logs nearly 47 minutes and scores a season high 31 points in a double overtime win in Portland. Pistons lose next three games.

February 12th: Ish Smith and Tobias Harris lead an improbable second half comeback winning 102-101. Jackson plays just under 17 minutes and holds a +/- of -25. The calls to “Start Ish” reaches a season high.

March 14th: Pistons get blown out in Cleveland with Jackson going 3-13 from the field in just over 20 minutes. The loss begins a grisly stretch of play as the Pistons lose eight of nine which essentially puts to bed any postseason dreams.

March 22nd: For the first time all season, Reggie Jackson comes off the bench as Ish Smith starts on the road in Chicago. Pistons lose by 22.

March 27th: Jackson is shut down for the remainder of the season.

March 28th: Mike Snyder starts to spend an inordinate amount of time on the trade machine.

One big question

What happens if Jackson isn’t the Reggie Jackson of 2015-16?

The further we get away from Detroit’s one season of prosperity in the last nine years, the better Jackson becomes in the minds of the Jackson faithful. It’s like the caught fish in a story that keeps getting bigger year after year.

Fact: The Pistons went 44-38 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs.

What are we clinging clinging to?

Jackson’s knee problems date back to his college days at Boston College; to think a 16 week rehab program this past summer is going to give him a clear bill of health moving forward leans heavily towards wishful thinking.

Whether it’s due to health or he’s just plain not good enough anymore, Jackson never returning to optimum playing capacity is firmly on the table. If this is the case, a Jackson-less Pistons’ roster completely overhauls the offensive duties of the rotation. More than likely, it would lead to Ish Smith in the starting unit with additional scoring opportunities for Avery Bradley and Tobais Harris while Langston Galloway would get run in at backup PG role.

Does anyone have a problem with Bradley or Harris getting more looks? Didn’t think so.

What about an uptick in Ish Smith drive and kicks and actually giving a shit on defense? You guys cool with that? Yeah, me too.

The problem then becomes what to do with Reggie Jackson the player and the two years remaining on his contract after this season. He’ll be taking in just over 17 million for 2018-19 and just over 18 million for 2019-20, not exactly chump change.

If he’s not healthy enough to play then finding a new home would become all but impossible. If it’s attitude related or simply stifled production, however, then we have some—not much—wiggle room.

Assuming he can stay on the court and SVB is looking to make a move, the ideal situation for Reggie Jackson would be the first guard off the bench for a contender. He checks in the game to do what he does best: score. In case of starting point guard injury emergency, he could hold the fort admirably.

If Jackson isn’t the one we fondly remember from 2015-16, Stan Van Gundy cannot sit idle while another lost season plays out before him.

Projected role

What happens if Jackson is the Reggie Jackson of 2015-16?

The further we get away from Detroit’s one season of prosperity in the last nine years, the more evidence mounts of just how important he was to the Pistons’ winning ways.

Fact: The Pistons went 44-38 and pushed the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers for three and half of the four games.

Clearly, Detroit is a different team with him.

Even though Jackson’s knee problems date back to his college days, he spent 16 weeks this past off-season with the sole purpose of strengthening not only his knee but all the supplementary issues as well.

A vibrant Jackson allows everyone else to play the part they signed up for. While Ish Smith filled in superbly a year ago, the Pistons would be best served if he’s spearheading the second unit. The pick-and-roll chemistry forged between Jackson and Andre Drummond brought out the best in both which bodes well for Detroit. Avery Bradley dabbled in PG duties during his formative years in Boston but decidedly came into his own and thrived playing off ball. Stanley Johnson hasn’t shown the ability to be a consistent offensive threat and needs to be surrounded by scoring to even stay on the court. Go up and down the roster, Detroit needs Jackson to meet this season’s expectations. The only Pistons’ player whose stock doesn’t vault skyward with a robust Reggie Jackson is Tobias Harris. The team, however, is better and if I know Tobias like I think I know Tobias, he’d be OK with that.

After being shutdown late last season and taking the entire summer to rehab, the ideal scenario would include easing Jackson back into playing full time. Upon his return last year, he was a step slow and it never returned. Hopefully, it was a lesson learned, albeit the hard way.

If Jackson is the one we fondly remember from 2015-16 then the Pistons should seize the opportunity to capitalize on a less-than Eastern Conference. A couple bounces going Detroit’s way could lead to a seed as high as five.

Prediction

Keep in mind: prediction, what I want to see happen and what I’m rooting for are three completely different questions being asked.

Prediction: His season will inevitably go in the direction of one of the two descriptions depicted above. With the evidence that’s been presented throughout last season, over the summer and during training camp, I can’t envision this ending well. Either because of health or ineptitude, I don’t see Jackson finishing the season as the Pistons’ starter at the point guard position. In fact, I don’t think he makes it the entire year in a Pistons’ uniform.

What I want to see happen: I would’ve cut loses a long time ago but it’s probably my fandom that’s speaking so harshly. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the Pistons held onto Jackson when the best case scenario remains a first round loss in the playoffs. Why risk another disappointing season for such a small reward? Jackson’s the key to this season’s success but the Pistons’ future doesn’t depend on his wobbly knee. If the franchise’s goal is to make a token appearance in the postseason every once in a while then they got their guy in Jackson. If that’s not the goal, why are they waiting to move on? The league is loaded with top talent point guards and Jackson—even if completely healthy—isn’t one of those. I’d love to see the team pivot in another direction with the position sooner rather than later.

What I’m rooting for: An answer as soon as possible and to be proved horribly wrong.