Silver Lining

Nearly at full strength, Jonas Jerebko looks to bright Pistons future

Jonas Jerebko, his family and the Pistons anticipate a dominating return for the foward.
Jonas Jerebko can’t be 100 percent certain he’ll still be a Piston whenever the next NBA season picks up, but he’s already envisioning playing in a frontcourt with Greg Monroe and Austin Daye.

“You obviously do think about it,” he said this week. “Me, Greg and AD could do some good things. All of us want to get better and work hard. It would be fun.”

That frontcourt got limited time together in Las Vegas last summer, during the NBA Summer League, but Jerebko and Daye both missed games with minor injuries and Monroe was a long way from the player who began posting routine double-doubles once he moved into the starting lineup in January. Monroe’s metamorphosis, Jerebko admits, is something he could not have envisioned.

“No, actually not – I’m not going to lie,” Jerebko said. “But as the season progressed, you could tell he was a hard worker, he listens and he just got better. He started off struggling a little bit, didn’t play in the beginning of the season. As soon as he started getting more minutes, he learned. In practice – I knew myself, coming from Italy and coming to the NBA, it takes a little bit of time to adjust to the game.

“Everybody’s bigger and stronger and jumps higher, but he did a great job. I’m proud of him. He just had a great season.”

But not his best. The Pistons, by John Kuester’s admission, really didn’t run plays for Monroe last year, banking on his nose for the ball and ability to find holes in the defense to create scoring chances. It’s only logical, Jerebko believes, that better days are ahead for not only Monroe, but the entire frontcourt.

“He’s 20 years old and it’s not like you’re going to have a ceiling. If you’re as young as me and AD and Greg, you can’t just say he’s had his best season. He’s a rookie. We’ve all only played a couple of years in the league. I’m looking forward – if I do come back here – to keep working hard and keep getting better. I think we can do good things.”

Jerebko, as a second-round draft pick with two years of service, will be a restricted free agent this off-season. The recent history of restricted free agency is that there is little player movement and usually then only under special circumstances. When Utah lost Wesley Matthews to Portland last summer, it was because the Jazz – partly because they’d had to match a front-loaded Portland offer sheet to Paul Millsap the previous summer – were already deep into luxury-tax territory.

But the rules of engagement could be different whenever the NBA and its Players Association reach a new collective bargaining agreement, so Jerebko isn’t automatically banking on a return to Detroit.

“I don’t know – I hope so,” he said. “We’ll see.”

But the Pistons aren’t in any salary cap distress and have every intention of bringing him back. When he returns, Pistons fans will see a bigger and stronger Jerebko. If there was a silver lining to the Achilles tendon tear suffered in the first preseason game in October that cost Jerebko his entire second season, it was the opportunity it gave him through work with strength coach Arnie Kander to add strength. Jerebko finished his rookie season at 220, he said, actually losing weight as the season unfolded, but he’s now up to 240 – good, solid weight, he said.

“Arnie wouldn’t do anything where you lift, get big and can’t move,” he said. “It’s all basketball related and it’s good weight. After I lift, every day I move. I’m as fast as I was before. I don’t think I could have done it during the season. I play kind of hard, so I can’t really gain weight during the season. So I felt like this season has been good for me. I’ve been able to rest my body and I’ve been working on my strength.

“It will make me stronger in the post. I felt like I could hold my own last season, but it just makes it easier for me. On defense, it will help me and on offense, I shoot the ball easier. When you get tired at the end of the game, your shot changes. I feel like I’m shooting my shot the same all the time now.”

With the experience Daye gained last season playing both forward spots and Monroe having proven as a rookie he can guard a variety of big men, Jerebko envisions a frontcourt with the versatility that will allow Pistons coaches great latitude.

“If you put me and AD out there at the three, the four, who cares who’s the three and who’s the four? Me and AD, we can switch everything. Even with Greg, me Greg and AD, if we’re in there we could switch everything.”

Whenever the Pistons can put that plan into action, Jerebko will be at full strength and ready for it. While the Achilles has long since healed, the muscles in his right leg are still catching up. But Kander has told him that by late May or early June, it will be all systems go.

“I wouldn’t call it rehab any more – it’s just basketball,” he said. “I play basketball and after that I do some calf work. I’m doing skill work – shooting the ball and moving. I’m not going to do any one on one, two on two, three on three or four on four until the lockout clears.”

And that also means, he said, he likely won’t be playing for the Swedish national team this summer unless a labor agreement is in place.

“I would love to play for the national team, but if there’s a lockout and I don’t have a contract I can’t play,” he said. “If the lockout clears up, I sign a contract and they want me to play, I’ll play. That’s how easy it is.”

It was his work for the Swedish national team last summer, when he carried it to first place in group play in pre-Olympic qualifying, that in large part had him so excited to show what else he had to offer the Pistons besides what he provided as a rookie. After losing an entire season, he hopes to combine the confidence he gained in his offensive skills last summer with the strength he gained during a lost season to come back even better next year.