One thing has been perfectly clear since Stan Van Gundy took over an organization in disarray — he's not sitting around, waiting and hoping.
A quiet trade deadline day suddenly turned interesting Thursday, and the Pistons may have landed another key puzzle piece. Van Gundy's quest for a floor leader brought him Thunder guard Reggie Jackson, a dynamic 24-year-old who had asked for a trade, seeking an expanded role. He'll get it here, with D.J. Augustin sent to the Thunder in return, and Brandon Jennings out for the season with an Achilles injury.
The Pistons also acquired old friend Tayshaun Prince from the Celtics, but this wasn't a nostalgic glance at the past. Prince has an expiring contract, so he'll get a 28-game curtain call with his former team, which then gets salary-cap space. With the moves, Van Gundy didn't damage the Pistons playoff hopes and took a bold shot at enhancing their future, a smart gambit.
Gone is Augustin, who flashed his scoring ability after replacing Jennings. Also gone are dispensable pieces Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome, as well as two second-round picks in the deals with Oklahoma City and Boston.
Let's be clear here. This wasn't a wild leap to win now, although Jackson and Prince in the starting lineup should be better than Augustin and Singler. But it certainly wasn't a sell job, a common and annoying practice in the NBA. As Van Gundy had promised, free-agent-to-be Greg Monroe remained, and the Pistons will keep trying to convince him to stay. Perhaps the best way to do that is to continue their playoff push, two games out of the eighth spot, starting tonight against the Bulls.
Hedging their bets
Jennings' injury was a major blow, and the Pistons have to question whether he'll regain his trademark quickness. This serves as a hedge, an acknowledgement about the uncertainty of Jennings, who has a long recovery ahead. With Andre Drummond and Jackson, the Pistons have two young talents that Monroe might find enticing, and if he doesn't and opts to leave, they'll have salary-cap space to maneuver.
They'll need space for Jackson, who will be a restricted free agent and already reportedly turned down a four-year, $48 million offer from the Thunder. In the right role, Jackson, who's 6-3 with a feisty disposition and a confident demeanor, should be an appreciable upgrade.
He certainly expects to be, talking earlier this season about his goals to be a starter and then an All-Star. He wasn't going to be a full-time starter in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook there, which created a rift. But when given the chance, Jackson showed promise. The Pistons are hoping they got an intriguing straw to stir their drink, maybe even a Mr. June (apologies to baseball's Mr. October, Reggie Jackson).
Jackson is averaging 12.8 points and 4.3 rebounds this season while shooting 43 percent and 86 percent from the free-throw line. When he started 13 games for an injured Westbrook, his numbers grew — 20.2 points, 7.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds. Even more impressive, Jackson played a key role in Oklahoma City's past two playoff runs, averaging 12.1 points and shooting 47 percent.
By comparison, Augustin is 27 and will be playing for his sixth team in eight seasons. He's 6-foot and a liability on defense, and was brought in to back up Jennings. He averaged 10.6 points and shot 41 percent for the Pistons.
"Reggie is a young player with good size and length at the guard position," Van Gundy said in a release by the team. "He's been successful as a starter playing extended minutes and we feel he's a good addition to our roster."
There is a plan
Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower weren't interested in a lateral move, and certainly weren't going to mortgage the future. They didn't trade a first-round pick and they added Prince's expiring contract, the type of deals Van Gundy has to make, and isn't afraid to do. In less than a year, he has almost completely turned over the roster, with only four holdovers remaining — Drummond, Monroe, Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
This is another sign the organization has a plan, which began with the December release of Josh Smith.
Van Gundy has his center in Drummond, and will keep hunting for shooting pieces to surround him. We don't know exactly what he found here, but at least he knows what he needs, and won't stop looking.