The Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings from the Bucks for Brandon Knight in July. (Jose Juarez / Associated Press)
Auburn Hills — Brandon Jennings’ Pistons debut will have to wait at least a few games into the season, as the team revealed he’ll miss at least three weeks with a tooth problem.
Jennings has an impacted wisdom tooth as well as a hairline fracture of the mandible at the base of the tooth, otherwise known as a fractured jaw. Jennings will be immobilized for the next three weeks and re-evaluated at that time, which by then will be four games into the season if he returns.
Nov. 5, a home game against Indiana, is the earliest he can return according to that timeline, meaning he’ll miss the season opener against Washington as well as games against Memphis and Boston. The projected date is a week before the Pistons’ four-game West Coast swing that begins on Nov. 11.
The Pistons will have to find a contingency plan for the point guard they traded for this summer and signed to a three-year, $24 million deal.
It’s unclear when the fractured jaw occurred or how it happened. He played during the exhibition opener against Maccabi Haifa last Tuesday and played 23 minutes, with 15 points, five steals, three rebounds and three assists.
Jennings was a late scratch in the Pistons’ exhibition game against the Heat last Thursday, didn’t travel with the team to Brooklyn and hasn’t been at practice the last two days.
This is on the heels of Rodney Stuckey breaking the tip of his right thumb and undergoing surgery late last week, as he’ll be evaluated next Friday and could be back by opening night, but there are no guarantees at this point.
“We’ve been playing the last three days without (Jennings) anyways so we keep on moving,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Hopefully he’s a quick healer and gets on the court as soon as he can.”
Although Jennings isn’t in the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA, he’s still a crucial part of what the Pistons hope to accomplish this season, with the expectation of making the playoffs.
It’s not quite the Celtics without Rajon Rondo or the Bulls without 2011 MVP Derrick Rose but Jennings’ value could be equated to Denver being without speedy guard Ty Lawson or removing Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies, as Conley led them to the Western Conference Finals last spring.
He’ll miss valuable time in getting acclimated to playing with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, as Cheeks has been vocal about Jennings’ importance to those three players jelling together.
Jennings’ ability to score in bunches, quickness in terms of getting into the lane and being able to create for others can’t truly be duplicated in the meantime, perhaps save for Will Bynum.
There’s never a good time for injuries at such an important spot to occur but considering it’s a week into the exhibition season and the Pistons have a decent amount of depth at the position, they feel they can weather it in the meantime.
Until that time comes, you can bet Cheeks is thankful Chauncey Billups is available. Billups, 37, was already a candidate to be the starting shooting guard on opening night but could be thrust into his more natural position of point guard.
The Pistons are giving Billups the latitude of choosing how hard he wants to go in training camp, given his age and experience, and he’ll likely play a more expanded role until Jennings returns.
Billups hasn’t played since the exhibition opener, but is expected to play tonight against the Bulls and Thursday in Cleveland.
“For him, he’s such a valuable asset because he gives us that experience,” Cheeks said. “The ability to have him to be able to play becomes even greater. You go into camp with five healthy guards, now you have three.”
Bynum, who played 46 minutes against the Heat last week, will welcome the increased workload and this gives the Pistons a chance to further evaluate second-round draft pick Peyton Siva, along with first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Even Kyle Singler will get some run in the backcourt, too.
“It’s not normal but injuries are injuries. Hopefully they can get back and not linger on,” Cheeks said. “I told the guys this is the NBA. People get hurt. And if you’re not ready when your time comes along, shame on you. That’s why you have 15 guys on your team. Hopefully guys take advantage.”