Foster: Van Gundy better hope Reggie Jackson pans out

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson is averaging 14.7 points in his last 10 games.

Salt Lake City — Stan Van Gundy has yet to complete his first season as Pistons coach and he is already at a crossroads.

And Van Gundy put himself there.

He ruined what might have been a promising season to bring in his leader of the future. He simply has to be right about Reggie Jackson. If he is then the Pistons have a nice building block for the future.

If Van Gundy is wrong, then Jackson becomes the Pistons' equivalent of Lions' bust Joey Harrington.

Harrington took over as Lions quarterback out of the University of Oregon with plenty of hype and fanfare. He simply was not good enough. The Lions finished 19-45 during Harrington's four seasons here from 2002 to 2005. He threw 60 touchdown passes and 62 interceptions with the Lions and was benched by coach Steve Mariucci before Harrington's final season.

Jackson is Van Gundy's quarterback of the future. He came in with questions and many of those questions remain after a dozen games.

When Jackson joined the team the Pistons were in the playoff hunt. They are 2-9 since giving him the keys to the car, which included a nine-game losing streak heading into Saturday's final Western swing contest against the Utah Jazz.

To his credit Jackson played his best floor game during a 118-99 loss to Portland. He finished with 11 points and 10 assists and seemed to figure out the balance of being a floor leader as opposed to a leading scorer in the stats book. He found Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond inside for easy baskets in the first half but then the Pistons abandoned the game plan in the second half.

The Pistons are likely to sign Jackson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent, this summer. A number of Piston fans are already down on the guy. I will give him the benefit of the doubt after seeing him go through a training camp. It is one thing to be a backup in this league. It becomes a whole new ball game when you are asked to lead a franchise.

Learning curve

Jackson has skills. What he doesn't have is a total understanding of the organization and the Van Gundy way.

Team owner Tom Gores stood behind his man with a 'Stan has a plan" speech in Los Angeles.

"I just really believe in what is going on here," Gores told reporters in Los Angeles earlier this week.

Van Gundy does not want to talk much about the future, but he has a lot on his plate. He must find shooters. His system is to dump the ball inside to his big men and let them do their thing. When the middle clogs then shooters must make shots.

They have not during this losing streak. Teams do not fear the perimeter because the guards and small forwards have not made them pay. The Pistons might need to look outside the organization for shooters.

The problem is guys that are doing most of the missing return next season. This group is not cutting it. Many around the league believe Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will find his way and become a dangerous jump shooter. However, his touch comes and goes.

"You are getting wide open shots. It is just a matter of knocking them down," Caldwell-Pope said. "Some nights they are going to go down and some nights they are not. You have to continue to shoot them and get a rhythm.

"If you're open take the shot. If you pass up an open shot nine times out of ten you are not going to make the shot when it comes back to you. So you take the open shot when you get the opportunity."

Stan must have a plan that includes Jackson as a major player that produces. If that doesn't happen, then Van Gundy is no better than Mo Cheeks, Lawrence Frank and John Loyer who guided the Pistons 29-53 records in each of the past two seasons. Guess what? The Pistons are on pace to win 29 games again.

How can you sell that to Greg Monroe who becomes an unrestricted free agent and who has never played in a playoff game? How can you sell that to Andre Drummond who will return next season but must question what is going on around here.

The good news is there are no signs of mutiny. There are also no signs of progress.