No All-Star break for SVG, busy scheming to exploit Griffin’s addition while awaiting Jackson’s return

Stan Van Gundy awaits Reggie Jackson’s return while he tinkers with the offense to make best use of Blake Griffin
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy, Pistons president of basketball operations, keeps complicating the life of Stan Van Gundy, Pistons basketball coach.

Van Gundy might be kicking back and enjoying the All-Star break – probably not, but play along – if not for the radical overhaul of the roster that added three new rotation pieces, including Blake Griffin, over the past few weeks.

He planned to take Thursday off. In a more typical All-Star break, he’d probably coast through the weekend, even. But this isn’t a typical All-Star break, not with Van Gundy trying to figure out ways to maximize Griffin’s unique ability.

“I’m going to watch a lot more film than I normally do,” he said as the Pistons wrapped up the pre-break portion of their schedule with Wednesday’s win over Atlanta. “I normally leave it until Monday. I’ll probably not do a whole lot (Thursday), but after that I’ll be right back at it.”

Van Gundy has been beating himself up over the Griffin dilemma, trying to radically remake the offense during an unforgiving stretch of schedule that leaves precious little time for practice. And at this juncture, well past the season’s halfway point, days off for rest – look at the rash of injuries around the league – are paramount, too.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of defensive adjustments we want to make; it’s just a matter of going to work,” he said. “But offensively, I’m still not sure. I got a million ideas and you can’t have a million ideas. You’ve got to get it down to some things you really want to work on.”

Van Gundy had a similar integration project coming out of the All-Star break in the first and second years of his Pistons tenure, though the trades for Reggie Jackson in 2015 and Tobias Harris in ’16 actually came as the break was wrapping up. But those, he said, were far less complex missions.

“We made the trade for Reggie the first year, we were already a really heavy pick-and-roll team and he just came in and we ran pick and rolls with him. It was a pretty easy offensive adjustment. Then when we brought Tobias in the next year, he was a lot like Marcus (Morris) and (Anthony Tolliver), so it was just getting him the stuff.

“But now we trade for Blake, who is obviously a much different type of player at the four than Tobias, so an offense that was built with Tobias and A.T. at the four is not necessarily a real good fit. So we’ve tried to do some things on the fly. It’s a mishmash right now. Probably should’ve gotten to some of that earlier, but we have to address it coming back.”

And hovering over the adjustments to accommodate Griffin is the looming return of Jackson from injury. Van Gundy isn’t overly concerned about having to tinker with the offense to fold Jackson into the mix so much as fretting about the dislocation it might cause as Jackson builds chemistry with Griffin and gets back up to NBA speed.

“You might have to pare things down without Reggie, but Reggie’s easy to integrate when he comes back,” he said. “You can run a lot of stuff. Point guards are pretty easy to run stuff with, especially a guy like him. He can beat you off the dribble, turn the corner, make all the passes and he can shoot the ball. From a systems standpoint, it won’t be hard to integrate him. Now, getting chemistry with Blake and with James (Ennis) and guys he has never played with and getting back and playing after (being) so long out – there’s problems, but not from a system standpoint.”

Griffin, accustomed to playing off of a ball-dominant point guard from his time with Chris Paul and the Clippers, perks up when he talks about the prospect of Jackson’s return.

“He’ll be great for us,” he said after coming up one assist shy of a triple-double in the win over Atlanta. “Ish (Smith) has been great for us – he was huge tonight – but just getting Reggie back gives us another weapon. Reggie has great control of the offense. In the pick and roll, he’s deadly, so it just adds another element to our team offensively that’s going to be huge for us.”

The Pistons were 19-14 when Jackson suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain in their Dec. 26 win over Indiana, sitting in the No. 4 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They went 3-12 over their next 15 games before making the trade for Griffin. They’re 6-3 since and they’ll probably need to win at least 13 of their final 25 games to have any chance of landing a playoff spot, though it more likely will require something like a 15-10 record.

But the Griffin trade wasn’t made as a response to the tailspin that ensued once Jackson was lost. It was pursued and finalized because Van Gundy saw it as the right move for the franchise.

“You decide on a direction based on what’s available and you try to get better, either for now or the future or both,” he said. “I don’t think it matters where you are. So if you’re in fifth place in the East, you’re not trying to get better? You’re happy with that? I don’t think so. We thought we had a significant opportunity and we took it. We would’ve taken it if we were still in fourth place like we were when Reggie went out. We would’ve made the same deal.”

Now he just has to use the precious days of the All-Stark break to drill down and devise a blueprint that makes it call come to life.