LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Coronations take time, and more than a little good fortune, inherited or otherwise.

LeBron James learned that with some difficulty earlier in his career. And his reunion tour in Cleveland — finally gaining some traction after a few months stuck in neutral — is further proof.

Rebuilding projects in the NBA aren't typically quick fixes, either, though.

And tonight could be yet another reminder of that at The Palace, as the Pistons — still coming to grips with the season-ending injury Brandon Jennings suffered last weekend against the Bucks — welcome James back in a Cavaliers uniform for the first time since March 2010.

That was two championship rings, three MVP awards — five if you include the NBA Finals — and a couple receding hairlines ago for James.

It was two owners, five coaches — four if you'd forgotten about John Loyer's interim stint — and 237 losses ago for the Pistons.

So I suppose that's about all the two have in common, the King and our resident court jesters — this realization that even the best-laid plans require some work, and more than a little patience.

Yet as the Cavaliers get rolling — they've won six in a row with James leading the way — and the Pistons try to avoid that reeling feeling again, it's hard not to wonder when the home team's going to catch a break.

Losing out on a lottery pick was one thing, even if it was the Cavaliers' luck — bucking long odds to land the No. 1 overall choice for the third time in four years — that forced the Pistons to cough up theirs to the Hornets last summer.

But losing Jennings to a torn Achilles just when the young guard seemed to have found his place — and his team its purpose, after years of aimlessness – seems particularly unfair.

Then again, for coach Stan Van Gundy, it's just another twist in what he tactfully described Sunday as "a season of adjustment."

"I think we came into the year hoping (and) expecting it would go one way," said Van Gundy, whose team got off to a 5-23 start. "It didn't."

Adjustment needed

So, Van Gundy convinced ownership to make "a big adjustment" just before Christmas, jettisoning Josh Smith and his stifling presence — a stunning move that almost immediately sparked a turnaround.

The Pistons won seven in a row — including a 23-point thrashing of the Cavaliers last month that prompted James to admit, "Right now we're just not very good" — and 12 of 15 heading into last weekend.

"We had things going in a good direction," Van Gundy said.

And then Jennings went down in a heap, and, well …

"This will certainly change direction," the coach admitted a day later, once the initial, awful diagnosis of Jennings' injury was confirmed.

"How much will depend on how we play."

Indeed, with the NBA trade deadline a little more than three weeks away, how the Pistons handle this most recent change on the court certainly will have an impact on how they handle their business off it. They weren't likely to be major buyers at the deadline, but another course correction could nudge them into becoming a seller, albeit one with limited inventory.

"I think we'll just have to see where we are," said Van Gundy, whose dual role as team president offers him that luxury. "I think you're always adjusting your priorities and what you need to get done. And we'll have to do that as we go forward."

East remains weak

Still, losing Jennings doesn't mean the Pistons have to take a step back in a lackluster Eastern Conference, where a sub-.500 team almost assuredly will make the playoffs again this season. It may not even take the 38 wins it took to make it the last two seasons in the East, which means .500 basketball the rest of the way might be good enough for the Pistons.

And if D.J. Augustin can play anything like he did against the Raptors (35 points, eight assists) — or like he did last season in an expanded role for the Bulls in Derrick Rose's absence — the Pistons still seem capable of that.

They sit two games out of eighth in the East, a spot currently held by the Hornets. But Charlotte, which lost by 39 to the Cleveland last week, also will be without its leading scorer and point guard the next six weeks or more. Kemba Walker is scheduled to have knee surgery Wednesday in New York.

Among the other contenders — and that's a term best used lightly here — Brooklyn has dropped 10 of its last 12, including consecutive 39- and 35-point blowouts last week, Indiana has lost nine of its last 12, and Boston nine of its last 13.

All in all, it's a pretty sorry bunch. And though it was Van Gundy reminding everyone this weekend that "nobody's gonna feel sorry for you in this league, nor should they," it should be comforting for the Pistons, at least, to know they're in good company. Or bad, as it were.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/JohnNiyo

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE