Goodwill: Jennings injury threatens Pistons season
Milwaukee — Caron Butler was familiar with the silence of a debilitating injury caused without contact, and with the anguished shouts of pain.
He didn't need to look at Brandon Jennings' leg, or see his face as he banged his left hand on the Bradley Center floor.
"I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I've seen something like that," Butler said after Saturday's game.
If Jennings didn't know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
"Chauncey Billups," Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups' Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
"It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, 'Did you kick me?' I said, 'Nah, I didn't touch you.' He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn't move. He just started hopping."
Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst
While it is hoped the injury is an Achilles' strain or even a partial tear, the somber faces in the Pistons' locker room illustrated the fear, not only for their season that had been resurrected from the ashes but for a teammate they'd come to follow, one they had begun to believe in and understand.
"We don't know anything right now," said Greg Monroe, but conceded soon after: "It's tough -- that's our starting point guard and one of our leaders. You guys know how important he is to this team. It's tough."
Jennings might not be the best player on this Pistons team, but he's the one they cannot afford to lose, their unexpected surprise after they jettisoned Josh Smith in December. Monroe and Andre Drummond are certainly important, but if you lose one of them to injury, you would have the other to pick up the slack.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
"He's tapped into a part of his DNA that says he's a star and he's got to that place," Butler said. "And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody's gonna have to raise the bar."
But can they?
The non-contact injury ended seasons for Billups, and Dominique Wilkins. One was the disappointing close to Isiah Thomas' illustrious career, and took the best, last gasp of Kobe Bryant as we knew him.
Now it appears to have another victim: Brandon Jennings and the Detroit Pistons' 2014-15 season.
"He's been the guy who's been our catalyst offensively," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He's been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it's a major, major loss."
Butler saw the postgame anguish on his teammate's face in the locker room, a quiet one that seemed to have more to do with Jennings' plight than their disappointing effort — one that Jennings himself couldn't will them out of, it should be noted.
So Butler walked over, and the two tapped foreheads before Butler, who tells Jennings "you're a star" before every game, had to find some words for his heartbroken teammate.
"I just went head to head-with-him, told him we love him and we're playing for him," Butler said. "We'll see what happens after they do what they gotta do over the next 24 hours.
"I saw the pain in his face. ... It's so unfortunate because he's playing so well, we're playing so well and he's such a big key in what we're doing in the transition. This is unfortunate, man."
Butler blew out his right knee as a member of the Dallas Mavericks on that very floor in Milwaukee, while Jennings was a member of the Bucks, on New Year's Day, 2011.
"The year we won the championship," Butler said. "We had a rough stretch of about seven games then collectively we pulled together. Not one particular guy. Everybody raised their play and played better."
No one knows what Van Gundy will do as an executive, if he'll go for the short-term play and scour the market for point guard help if Jennings' injury is as devastating as everyone fears, or ride it out with the players he has.
"It's gonna be by committee," Butler said. "It has been by committee since Christmas. It hasn't been one individual."
"But he's been playing off the radar."