Forward Looking

Pistons focus on moving ahead after losing Jerebko to injury
John Kuester didn’t need a half-second to come up with a response when I asked what would be the quality Jonas Jerebko contributed that would be most difficult to replace.

“The energy,” he said after a long Thursday practice, the Pistons’ first since arriving home at nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday and watching both Jerebko and Terrico White needing help descending Roundball Three’s steps, both scheduled for Friday surgery to repair a partial Achilles tendon tear (Jerebko) and a broken foot (White).

The Pistons, after years of injury fortune that made them the envy of every other NBA teams’ trainers, learned just how unforgiving the game can be last season. It doesn’t matter who’s fit enough to pull on the uniform, the schedule marches on.

The marching without Jerebko – expected to miss five months – commences Friday night, when the Pistons play their first home preseason game against Milwaukee.

“He was starting to come into his own with regard to how his energy was, how he communicated with the players,” Kuester said. “He had started to take on more of a leadership role for being such a young player.”

That’s as close as Kuester would get to a melancholy moment. Before practice, he had strength coach Arnie Kander address the team to let them know Jerebko’s status, and then it was back to work: watching a lot of tape first, then addressing some of the fundamental breakdowns that allowed Miami to hurt them in building a 20-point first-half lead.

“The hardest thing is making sure that you play the entire way that we’ve been practicing for 48 minutes,” Kuester said. “We’re not a team that can have slippage. The beginning of the first quarter, when our starters were in, they did a great job. When we substitute, we’ve got to make sure that same type of focus occurs throughout the entire time they’re in there.”

One of those players who began the Miami game as a substitute will draw the start Friday. Kuester isn’t saying who that might be for now, but there are a number of different ways he can go. Charlie Villanueva is the most likely to step into Jerebko’s spot at power forward, but Jason Maxiell, Greg Monroe, Austin Daye and Chris Wilcox are other possibilities. Wilcox was a limited participant in Thursday’s practice and it’s unlikely he’ll play on Friday night, still nursing a mild hamstring strain, but he was enjoying a strong camp until last Saturday’s injury.

“There’s always an opportunity, whether Jonas was hurt or healthy,” Wilcox said. “Sorry to hear he got hurt, but we’ve got to move forward.”

“I don’t wish injury on anybody,” Daye said, “but it helps me that I can play multiple positions, whatever coach feels like he can put me at and is comfortable with me.”

Daye came on for Villanueva at that spot in Miami and says the biggest challenge for him will come defensively, starting with becoming more familiar with his responsibilities.

“It’s just a lot of coverages that I don’t really know that I’ve got to get more familiar with on the defensive end,” he said. “In this league, there are guys who are beasts down low. It would be tough, but I think I could handle it. But they also have to guard me on the perimeter.”

The fact that the candidates to replace Jerebko all had strong summers and drew Kuester’s attention during camp gives the Pistons a fighting chance to weather his loss better than it might appear they would on first glance.

When I asked Kuester about the odds of Daye being able to steal minutes at that spot, he said, “He could steal minutes at one, two, three or four. Austin is gifted. He’s our tallest player, I believe. He’s somebody that has to learn more than one position. That is something we’ll explore.”

And for Monroe, he said, “Greg was going to have an opportunity no matter what. Now, all of a sudden, we’re down another big and that’s going to put him in a good position.”

There was no evidence of a “here we go again” posture about the Pistons, who became almost numb to the daily reality of players dropping last year.

“Oh, no no no no no,” Kuester said. “Not at all. … For every tough situation – losing Jonas and Terrico for the time we have, there’s a blessing. And the blessing is that Rip Hamilton had a baby boy.”

Yup, the Pistons were missing another player at Thursday’s practice. Hamilton and his wife, T.J., welcomed their second child to the family. It was a little less than three years ago when their son, Richard Clay II, was born just as the 2007-08 season opened. Hamilton missed the first two games, a road trip to Miami and Orlando.

“That’s pretty neat,” Kuester said. “We’re real happy for him.”