Pistons Jerebko eager for fresh start under Van Gundy

Jared Wickerham (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Jonas Jerebko hasn’t exactly shaved his head, but his hair is cropped to within about a half-inch of his scalp. He’s not exactly starting over on his NBA career, either, but he’s about that close to claiming a new beginning at an old position under Stan Van Gundy.

He’s met with the Pistons new coach and president of basketball operations, liked what he heard and will spend his summer here – no national team commitments for the native Swede this time around – preparing to reverse a four-year career trend that has seen his minutes and role steadily shrink since a breakout rookie season followed by a sophomore year lost to an Achilles tendon tear.

“It was a good conversation,” he said of his initial sit-down with Van Gundy, “but it stays between us.”

It hasn’t been lost on Jerebko, though, that Van Gundy has spoken publicly about how he views the strength of the team as the frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. And while Van Gundy acknowledges that Monroe, as a restricted free agent, might be elsewhere next season, if all three are back the Pistons view them as a three-man rotation at the two power positions – a trio Van Gundy argues could well be the best in the Eastern Conference.

It follows, then, that the Pistons have a void at small forward. Kyle Singler would be first in line for minutes, but he might also be in the mix at shooting guard. In any case – at least before Van Gundy supplements the roster via trades and free agency – Jerebko is looking to press for minutes at small forward.

“I want to play the three. I want to be able to play the four. I want to play multiple positions,” he said. “I want Stan to be confident putting me in in any of those situations. That’s definitely one of my goals, to keep working and stay ready at any position he wants to put me in at. I’ve been shooting the ball well, so I’m going to keep shooting it and work on that this summer, too. That’s why I’m here – to get going early.”

Jerebko spent a month in Sweden and returned to Detroit last week, where he’ll spend the rest of his summer. He’ll work with Arnie Kander, with whom he developed a very close relationship while rehabilitating from his Achilles tear, even moving in with Kander’s family in the early stages. He suspects Kander is tailoring his summer workout regimen with an eye toward playing more small forward.

“He’s got that in mind,” Jerebko said. “He’s got a whole summer to work with me now. He’s never had that before. He’s always been sending me with different workouts I’ve been doing by myself. I think it’s going to benefit me in the long run to be able to work with Arnie and the coaching staff for a long period of time before the season starts.”

Small forward is where he first made his mark in the NBA, starting in his second NBA game when ironman Tayshaun Prince went down with a back injury and John Kuester threw his rookie ball of energy into the fray to guard Vince Carter.

He didn’t back down an inch and became a favorite of teammates and fans immediately while unofficially claiming the team lead in floor burns.

He averaged 28 minutes a game for an undermanned team, but has seen those numbers cut to 23, 18 and 12 in the last three seasons with his production suffering accordingly. He lost his spot in the rotation under Maurice Cheeks, not playing in 17 of last season’s first 50 games.

But once John Loyer took over for the final 32 games, Jerebko regained his spot as the backup power forward and ended the season with a flourish. Over the season’s final two months, he averaged more than 17 minutes and 6.5 points per game. And while the Pistons sunk to 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting, Jerebko actually led them by shooting 42 percent – 50 percent in April.

Jerebko could have waited until the end of June to inform the Pistons of his decision not to exercise the out in his contract. But if there was any equivocation, it ended when Van Gundy took over.

“Of course it was a factor,” he said. “It could have gone different ways. I like Stan, just playing against him and knowing he’s a good coach who coaches hard and keeps everybody accountable. I’ve heard good things. So I’m ready to buy in to whatever he’s got to offer. That’s why I’m here early to get ready and have a good season.”

It’s fair to guess that Van Gundy – a proponent of players doing what they do well and not overstepping those bounds – gave Jerebko his views as to what role he envisions for him, even if he won’t divulge the contents of their exchange.

“I’m just going to play my game and whatever I bring to the table, that’s why I’m in this league,” he said. “I know what I’m good at and I know what I can do. I’ve got to do it better and harder.”