Detroit Lob City

Pistons talent will make change easy for Jennings, he says

Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings thinks playing with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith will make Detroit the new Lob City.

Joe Dumars and John Hammond were both in Las Vegas late last month checking in on their young big men with eyes on cracking the United States national team roster, Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders. But the Pistons and Bucks bosses left for home without broaching the possibility of swapping point guards.

The next day, on July 26, Hammond called his former boss and asked, “Do you have any interest in Brandon Jennings?”

“I don’t know,” Dumars replied, intrigued but cautious. “Do I?”

It wasn’t that Dumars needed to be convinced of Jennings’ talent or his fit on a roster that, in his mind, needed someone with more of a playmaking bent at point guard. It was that he feared the price would be too high. When Hammond let him know he wasn’t asking for any draft picks, merely a trade based on Brandon Knight and the contracts of Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov to satisfy salary-cap parameters, the wheels were set in motion for a deal that came together very quickly.

Over a long weekend, Dumars watched plenty of Jennings videotape, consulted with coach Maurice Cheeks and owner Tom Gores, and did plenty of due diligence on Jennings’ makeup. But unless there were red flags that popped up on tape or in those background checks, it was a trade that made sense for the Pistons from the moment it was proposed, even if it wasn’t easy to part with Knight.

The Pistons had plenty invested in Knight and liked everything about him … except, perhaps, the fact that he hadn’t shown evidence that playmaking came naturally to him.

“Any time you draft a hard-working kid like that, it’s not easy,” Dumars said after Tuesday’s introductory press conference for Jennings at The Palace. “But where we are as a team and what we needed right now, it was a move like we felt we had to do. (Jennings’ five years of pro experience, including a year in Italy) was the difference. They’re only two years apart (in age), but the fact that Brandon Jennings has five years of pro experience under his belt and is primarily a point guard was what swayed it, to say we’ve got to go ahead and do this.”

Dumars, Cheeks and Jennings have already had frank talks about what the new point guard can bring to Detroit – and what he should leave in Milwaukee. The Pistons want the dynamic Jennings who can knock down open shots and create open space with blinding quickness and deft ballhandling, but they don’t want the forced shots that have marked Jennings’ history.

“I think you’re going to see a whole different player, just with all the talent I have around me, “ Jennings said. “I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”

Prompted to expand on what type of player that was, Jennings said, “I definitely have to change my game for this team. We have a bunch of great players. The things I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here – take all those bad shots – because we have so many pieces.”

The Jennings who came out of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy was hailed as a transcendent playmaker with great vision, but when he got to the Bucks he evolved into a shoot-first player, partly out of necessity given the makeup of the roster.

“This will be my first year playing with a frontcourt like this – Drummond, Greg Monroe and also Josh Smith,” he said. “We have two (of the) top big men in the league, especially two young guys that have a lot of potential. They’re going to make my job a lot easier and, of course, I’m going to make their job a lot easier. I guess you could say we could bring ‘Lob City’ to Detroit this year.”

When Dumars brought Cheeks into the loop, valuing his input on a point guard perhaps to a greater degree than he might that of other coaches without Cheeks’ rich pedigree at the position, he found an enthusiastic supporter.

“I said, ‘Mo, we’ve got a chance to get Brandon Jennings,’ and he said, ‘Absolutely, you’ve got to do it.’ I said, ‘You don’t even know what I have to give up yet, Mo.’

“Mo’s thing is, ‘Give me the talent first. I’ll deal with whatever second. As a coach, I want the talent.’ ”

The Pistons have given him a roster vastly different than the one he inherited when Dumars picked Cheeks from a wide field of candidates in early June. Jennings, Smith, Chauncey Billups, Italian sharpshooter Gigi Datome and lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope among three talented rookies headline the influx of talent.

“We’ve upgraded our talent, for sure,” Dumars said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. The fair question is bringing the talent together, making it work. It’s tough when you don’t feel like you have much margin for error and that’s what talent does – allows you to have a little more margin for error to win games when you’re maybe not at your best.”

As Dumars spoke, the NBA was just a few hours from releasing the 2013-14 schedule. With a roster all but completed – except for the likelihood of signing a spare big man, Dumars said – it’s a schedule that won’t put the Pistons at personnel disdadvantages on very many nights this time around.