The road to recovery has been long and winding for Reggie Jackson. After unexpectedly experiencing pain in his knee last season it was decided knee tendonosis was going to keep him out six to eight weeks.
Jackson returned right on schedule, but he wasn’t the same player. His explosiveness wasn’t there and no matter how hard he worked it wasn’t coming back. His team, which had hovered around .500 in his absence, stumbled.
The losses were piling up, and Jackson was on the floor attempting to run the team the best way he knew how. Taking the ball and initiating a pick-and-roll. Probing the defense for a driving lane, looking for a weakness.
He wanted to do what he had been paid $80 million by the Pistons to do. Attack.
Suddenly, it was his teammates attacking him. There was reported discontent in the locker room as basketball was a lot less fun with 2016-17 Reggie Jackson than it was with Ish Smith or the Jackson of a year prior.
Jackson’s defense suffered even more than his offense (much more), and Detroit was quickly facing big deficits that were proving more and more difficult to overcome.
Eventually, Jackson was shut down. The team that had rushed him back before he was ready instituted a new plan — take it as slow as possible and build up strength in the knee.
And while everything is on track physically for Jackson, according to the team, he sounded at Pistons media day like the mental recovery from last season would be even more daunting.
“When summer first started, I even started going crazy msyelf thinking about it constantly,” Jackson said of last year’s disappointing season.
“I’m not going to lie, my hardest thing in life ... is trust,” he said. “Last year, when things went wrong and a lot of comments were coming out, I knew I could trust myself, but I can’t win by myself.”
By that, he means he needs to rely on others and do something that is really hard for himself — become vulnerable.
We know Jackson is an emotional guy. He was so hyped up about playing his first game as a starting point guard for the Pistons he literally made himself physically ill. He’s also been called at various times stubborn. Sometimes aloof.
People can apply a lot of labels to you when you’re an introvert, which Jackson freely admits.
“Naturally, I’m very much an introvert. I live in my head a lot,” Jackson said. “When times got tough last year, I found myself kind of going into my shell a little bit.”
I’ve seen Jackson talk quite a bit in his time in Detroit, and he’s usually relaxed and confident. But you could tell at media day that he was still shaken by what happened last year.
He was introspective, and while he spoke about needing to put last season behind him there was a touch of melancholy in his voice.
Stan Van Gundy often talks about the importance of Jackson regaining his confidence. Call it confidence, call it trust, call it joy for the game, it’s obvious something was missing last year, and it’s not all the way back quite yet.
That is likely a byproduct of Jackson still not being fully recovered. He’s barely done any basketball activities while on his 16-week rehab schedule, and the team is having him take it slow while they evaluate his recovery.
He’s still not his old self yet, and until he feels like he’s back it’s unsurprising that his thoughts could still linger on last season.
It’s a season Van Gundy takes the blame for.
“We really put him in an unfair situation,” the head coach said at media day. Jackson needs to go out every day and do everything he’s capable of, have confidence and get into a rhythm, Van Gundy said.
“We didn’t do that last year. That’s on me. We just went as soon as he was physically ready, we put him out there. There’s a lot more to it. I learned a lot from it, and we’ll handle it differently now.”
While everyone hopes Jackson regains 100 percent of his form physical self, he now has a chance, from a mental and character perspective, to be better than ever.
Conversations with his brother, with teammates, and even with then-former teammate Anthony Tolliver, helped him deal with last season, and understand what he needs to do to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“Just taking a step back and looking in the mirror and figuring out, I manned up and said I had a part to play in it,” Jackson said. “And if I want other players to trust me, and I want them to earn my trust, I have to put myself out there. So just learn that you have to be vulnerable. That you have to be better every day.”
Jackson says he’s more vocal this year, more approachable, more trusting and more vulnerable.
“From the role, the point guard position, you kind of have to be vocal. Guys have to understand what your vision is as well. So just reaching out to teammates, allowing them to get to know me, let them see my vulnerability and let them see who I really am.”