Brandon Jennings )
Auburn Hills — With a mask in hand, Brandon Jennings inched closer to his Pistons debut, declaring himself a game-time decision for Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics.
Hours later, Maurice Cheeks announced Jennings would play, but he wouldn’t start him. Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups started in the backcourt.
“I think he’s ready to play,” Cheeks said. “We’ll throw him out there, see how his wind is and go from there.”
Jennings went through Saturday’s practice with a mask that looks similar to the one Richard Hamilton donned for so many years. With a broken jaw that had to be immobilized, it’s been a little less than three weeks — the initial prognosis on Jennings after his injury was announced.
Suffice to say, wearing the mask is a necessary evil — not a joyous chore.
“To be honest, I’m not really too good about wearing a mask, but it’s something I have to do,” Jennings said. “Hopefully I won’t wear it too long.”
Jennings’ comeback creates a bit of an issue for Cheeks. He’s routinely said he doesn’t want to play five guards, so counting Bynum, Billups, Rodney Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and now Jennings, someone will have to sit.
Caldwell-Pope looks to be the odd man out, but Cheeks wanted to leave the door open to the first-round pick playing small forward at times. Caldwell-Pope had 13 points in 18 minutes Friday night against the Grizzlies, drawing the attention of Cheeks.
“Maybe (playing him at) other positions, I don’t know,” Cheeks said. “It would be tough to play five guards at those two positions. It wouldn’t be right and wouldn’t make a lot of sense. He has played well, we just have to find a way to get him out there.”
It surely won’t be Jennings, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal in a sign-and-trade this summer. Considering the Pistons practiced Saturday — after an overtime game on the road — and had a Sunday shoot-around for a 6 p.m. start, it sure looks as if the Pistons are trying to give him the extra work necessary to prepare him to play as soon as possible.
Perhaps shaking the rust off against a rebuilding Celtics team is easier than coming back against arguably the league’s top defense. Pistons strength-and-conditioning coach Arnie Kander has stressed the importance of the mask, despite the obvious irritancy.
“When you have mouth problems, you can’t just come out there and think you’re gonna play right away,” Jennings said. “This is the only way I can play in a game right now. If I’m not wearing this, I’m not playing. It’s a must.”
How long it takes Cheeks to integrate Jennings into the lineup likely will depend on how he plays in his first few outings.
Jennings hasn’t been able to develop much chemistry with his teammates on the floor, but considering the way they’ve turned the ball over in their first two games, having a low-turnover point guard in their lineup — and one who can shoot — will be a huge help.
“It wasn’t that frustrating. I was able to go through training camp with my (jaw) being broke the whole time and I never knew,” Jennings said. “I got to play one preseason game. I’m a hooper so of course I always wanted to play the game. It was good for me, I was able to learn and see some things we can do. I think we’ll be pretty good this year.”