October 1, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks shows Brandon Jennings some tough love

Auburn Hills Maurice Cheeks had a point to make. And its one he felt was important enough he wanted to make it before his first official practice today as the Pistons coach.

So just before the teams media day Monday he stopped Brandon Jennings and pulled the teams new point guard aside for a brief one-on-one chat.

He said hes gonna be on me every day and hes gonna put a lot of pressure on me, said Jennings, acquired from Milwaukee in a sign-and-trade deal in late July. Everything was just straightforward. He said the team goes as far as I go.

Thats a point guard talking there. Because thats what Cheeks was a generation ago. And he knows as well as anyone thats what Jennings needs to be or at least what he needs to try harder to be if this curious collection of talent Joe Dumars has assembled is going to amount to much more than that.

The mandate from ownership is to make the playoffs, and so the mandate now from Cheeks to Jennings is simple: Turn down the volume on the shot selection and turn up the intensity on the defensive end if you want this to turn out the way everyone hopes it will.

He has to be able to run this basketball team, said Cheeks, who spent plenty of time at his last stop in Oklahoma City mentoring another volatile, young guard in Russell Westbrook. I just told (Jennings) Im gonna let him know what that position is about, and the effect that it has on our team. I think he can have a major impact on our team depending how he plays the game.

How he played the game in Milwaukee isnt how hell play it here in Detroit, Jennings promises. A month ago, he vowed, Youre going to see a whole different player. Monday, he sounded eager to prove it, even as Cheeks started setting the ground rules, preaching an even-keeled approach from his presumptive floor leader.

It was actually a very good meeting, Jennings said. To hear the things he said to me, especially from a guy who played at a high level and won, it boosted my confidence level. I cant wait to begin.

Still a youngster

For starters, we should probably keep in mind that Jennings is still a young player, as Cheeks was quick to note Monday. He just turned 24 last week. (A celebration that included an altercation with rapper The Game, though Jennings said Monday, At the end of the day, as you see, Im fine.)

Jennings does have five years of pro experience under his belt, skipping college and playing in Europe for a year before the Bucks made him a lottery pick in 2009. And while his talent probably hasnt matched the hype early in his career, just as his free-agent contract (three years, $24 million in Detroit) probably didnt meet his own expectations, Jennings has improved as a point guard in some areas, particularly with his pick-and-roll game.

Thats something Brandon Knight the key player the Pistons gave up in the trade never seemed comfortable with in his first two seasons in the league. And its something the Pistons focused on as they mulled a deal for Jennings, who joked at his introductory news conference this summer about wanting to bring Lob City to Detroit this year.

With a front court that includes budding star Andre Drummond and newly-acquired Josh Smith, thats certainly part of the plan.

I mean, I knew that before he even said it, Drummond laughed Monday. I wasnt worried about that.

Handling the half-court

In theory, this team should generate plenty of offense with its defense and in transition, blocking shots and forcing turnovers. As Drummond said, You see our starting lineup, its nothing but athletes. So were gonna run a lot of guys out of the gym, is what it looks like.

But what will the half-court offense look like? Thats the question Cheeks knows he needs to answer sooner rather than later. And its one hell turn to Jennings to answer first on the court, asking him to better manage the clock and the game and his own scattershot impulses.

Hes still young, so hes got a lot to learn and Im just going to try and help him the best I can, Cheeks said. I played the position for a long time, so Im just trying to give him some of that knowledge that I had.

But the main thing I told him is point guards are measured by winning games. It doesnt matter if youre scoring 20-25 points. If your teams not winning, thats a direct result of your point guard.

With all these new faces, and all these concerns about spacing, particularly with that frontcourt trio of Drummond, Smith and Greg Monroe, it might be asking too much. But Jennings, the new Palace guard, insists hes ready for the challenge.

Of course, Jennings said. This is the reason I play basketball. If you dont like pressure, you shouldnt be in the NBA.


Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks joins Chauncey Billups, left; and Brandon Jennings during the team's media day Monday. / Clarence Tabb, Jr. / Detroit News
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