Until Greg Monroe made his exit official by signing with Milwaukee, Reggie Jackson still held out hope that he, Monroe and Andre Drummond could grow together and elevate the Pistons to contender status.
“Losing him was tough,” Jackson said. “We thought we could do something special with all three of us, if he was still here. I wish him the best.”
Jackson struggled through his first 11 games with the Pistons, perhaps hitting his low point in a March loss at Utah when he finished with 10 points, zero assists and five turnovers. Two days later, though, two things happened: Jackson, after a weekend of soul searching and consulting with family and his closest inner circle, relaxed and dazzled at practice; but near the end of that practice, Monroe injured his knee and would miss the next 11 games.
How much of it was the former and how much the latter, we’ll never know. But Jackson, playing in a more familiar offense with Monroe’s post presence swapped out for a shooter, registered 23 points and 20 assists the next night in a rousing win over Memphis and finished the season playing at an elite level. Now he comes into his first training camp as a Piston feeling entrenched, his comfort level further elevated by the security that comes with a reported five-year, $80 million contract signed over the summer.
“I feel like I’ve been here. I feel like the guys know who I am and for the most part I know them,” he said. “Even though it was short, I was extremely blessed and privileged to come over here (for the remainder of the 2014-15 season). It was a tough struggle, but I think it’s going to pay off in the end. I truly believe that. Teammates are all ready to get into camp. It feels like we know each other more than if I was traded in the summer or signed and not coming in new. We did the whole (team-bonding trip) thing in Vegas, I got there and knew everybody vs. trying to meet everybody. I could arrange dinners and didn’t have to worry about knowing a guy’s phone number, what you like, don’t like. It’s already established.”
Jackson maintained his high level of play over the season’s final five games when Monroe returned and he’s convinced Van Gundy would have devised ways to make the offense hum with two post players had Monroe stayed. But he’s also enthused about the potential of an offense that will feature shooting from all four spots around Drummond this season.
“Just to have more floor space, we’re all going to be able to play off each other and let our big fella dominate the paint and eat all day down there on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I’m going to help by attacking the paint and it’s just going to open the floor for everybody else on catch and drives, catch and shoots. Hopefully, we make plays for each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how this team gels.”
Jackson spent the off-season working on his shot and imagining the possibilities on offense, but also preparing himself to help spread Van Gundy’s gospel on the necessity to become a defense-first team to his teammates. He sees a team with great potential to improve on that end given the greater size, athleticism and versatility added to their perimeter with Van Gundy’s off-season makeover.
“I think we have some size and athleticism, some heart, some dogs,” he grinned. “Stanley (Johnson) probably thinks he can guard one through five. He probably doesn’t know any better right now and I’m not going to tell him any different. I want him to believe that. He knows he’s going to have to defend. So does Marcus (Morris). He knows he’s going to have to defend that position every night and that’s an (isolation) position. I think they’re going to come into camp and be mentally ready for that and as a team as a whole, one through four, we’re going to try to make some things work.”
If it all doesn’t come together in preseason for a team that added up to five new players to the rotation, Jackson can draw on last season’s rocky orientation to buoy everyone’s spirits.
“It was frustrating and I was almost angry when I was going through it,” he said. “Happy to come here but angry the transition didn’t go as smoothly. But you’ve got to have some struggles before you have success. I’m happy. Hopefully, we have the struggles out of the way. I’m sure there are going to be some more – a learning curve. We’re still young. We’re still figuring things out. We brought in a whole bunch of new players, but hopefully we can jell and get to know each other and get off to a better start this season.”