A fully healthy Jackson gives Pistons a chance to press reset button

Stan Van Gundy wants to see Reggie Jackson get in a full week of work without interruption before committing to playing him in a regular-season game.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Pistons.com today continues a five-part series looking at the biggest questions looming over the Pistons as they prepare for training camp to open this month. Today’s question: Will Reggie Jackson be the player he was before being shut down with an injured knee early last season and never recovering his form upon his return?)

Remember the first day of training camp last season, media day, when Stan Van Gundy talked about the theme of his message to Pistons players – “Why not us?”

That was the mood. The Pistons felt, with ample justification, that they weren’t that far removed from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yeah, they were swept in the2016 first round, but the Pistons held leads in the fourth quarters of three games and lost the only one they didn’t when Reggie Jackson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out.

Jackson represented much of the confidence the Pistons oozed late last September. He’d had a strong season, proved himself as one of the game’s best closers and – something only Jackson and the teammates who’d just gone through three weeks of voluntary workouts and scrimmages with him truly knew – had come back better and more confident than ever.

A few days into training camp, Van Gundy caught a glimpse of it, too.

“He was fantastic,” Van Gundy said in late July, recalling the force with which Jackson attacked the rim for that first week of camp. “He had been incredible. I mean, dominant.”

But Jackson – fueled by the memory of those near-miss losses to the Cavs and hungry to lead the Pistons up the Eastern Conference food chain – had logged hundreds of hours on the court over the summer and began to feel stabbing pains in his left knee.

He wound up opting for a platelet-rich plasma treatment that called for a six- to eight-week recovery. Jackson was fully cleared medically when he returned in early December, which really means he would have been fine to resume a career of salesman or accountant. But he had no passing gear. He’d been largely idle for more than a month after the injection and he’d lost the explosion that allowed the half-step separation to make all the difference between turning the corner and getting to the rim or getting ridden into the teeth of a defense.

The harder Jackson flailed, the deeper into the quicksand he sunk. The Pistons were between the proverbial rock and a hard place – trying to win games while simultaneously trying to play Jackson enough to get him back to full speed.

In retrospect, Van Gundy thinks they rushed Jackson back. Given the luxury of time over the off-season, everyone – Jackson, Van Gundy, the medical experts who’ve weighed in and set up a 16-week protocol of recovery – is confident Jackson will regain peak form. They’ll be cautious with him in training camp, too, likely limiting their point guard to the morning sessions when two-a-day practices open later this month.

Jackson was buoyant in mid-July when he returned to The Palace to welcome newly acquired Avery Bradley, his new running mate.

But no one will really know until they see the evidence for themselves in training camp. And then, perhaps, the Pistons will revisit the question: “Why not us?”