Niyo: Reggie Jackson becomes face of Pistons franchise

John Niyo
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Reggie Jackson might not be another Mr. Big Shot.

But he is now, officially, the best shot for the Pistons to end this era of irrelevance, one that was at least symbolically ushered in by an ill-advised trade — Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson — in November 2008.

This franchise has been searching in vain for a leader — on the floor and in his prime — ever since, spiraling from mutiny to malaise. And the underlying message Monday, as president/coach Stan Van Gundy announced Jackson’s five-year, $80 million extension during a news conference at The Palace, was as much about that as anything else.

Jackson didn’t bother holding up a No. 1 jersey — the same one Billups wore in the championship heyday of a decade ago — because “he’s already worn it,” Van Gundy noted.

And Jackson knows all that entails because they’ve already discussed it, the coach and his hand-picked point guard.

“Actually, that’s the first thing he talked to me about when I got here,” said Jackson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline from Oklahoma City, where he spent the latter part of his four-year rookie contract bridling at a backup role.

Leadership is the No. 1 job for an NBA point guard, controlling both the flow of the game and, inevitably, the feel of a locker room. And Van Gundy sounds confident he’ll get that from Jackson, who showed flashes of All-Star potential even before an impressive 27-game audition with the Pistons last season.

“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Van Gundy said. “I think he’s a guy that’s got a lot to prove, which is great. You want to get guys on their way up, not after they’ve already been there. And I think Reggie’s a guy on the rise.

“But that’s a big part of it: Reggie really wants to take the challenge of leading other people and getting a team to win.”

Reversing fortunes

Getting this team to win won’t be easy, not after six consecutive seasons missing the playoffs and an offseason that left even the front office wanting, whether they’ll admit or not.

Yet as Jackson talked about “turning this thing around” and building a “special team” and “bringing this city another title,” he talked about something else.

He talked about communication, starting with his backcourt mate, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whom he admits was a tough one to figure at first.

“He’s a man of few words,” Jackson said. “So it took two weeks to even know that we got along.”

But they did, and they do, and Jackson said Caldwell-Pope, the 22-year-old shooting guard who remains an X-factor in the rebuilding effort, was the first person to call when Jackson agreed to his new contract a few weeks ago. Center Andre Drummond wasn’t far behind.

“They were probably in a race to see who could be the best friend on the team,” joked Jackson, who says it’s “shocking” if more than a couple days go by without a flurry of texts or phone call between the three.

And it was no accident the trio dropped in on the Pistons Pro Summer League team in Orlando, Fla., this month. Nor is it a coincidence Drummond teamed with rookie first-round pick Stanley Johnson last weekend for a Drew League pro-am game in Los Angeles, with owner Tom Gores among those who showed up to watch.

“It was important for me to see these guys taking the leadership of coming in and being with the younger guys, encouraging them,” said Van Gundy, whose roster will be one of the youngest in the NBA this season. “All those little things are important.”

And for Jackson, this is no small detail. He has spent a lifetime adapting to new surroundings, become something of an expert at it, as his brother, Travis, who was in attendance at Monday’s news conference, can attest.

Traveling man

The youngest son of a military father — Saul Jackson was an officer in the Air Force — Jackson’s childhood was a nomadic one. Born in Italy, there were stops along the way in England, North Dakota, Georgia and Florida before settling in Colorado. And something you learn to do growing up like that — trying to fit in by making everybody else comfortable — is something that’s needed now for the Pistons, on and off the court.

Jackson, for his part, says he’s up to the task, and thrilled “have a home for the next five years of my life.” All he’ll ask is for others to follow his lead as he settles in.

“The future of this organization rests upon our shoulders,” Jackson said. “We know we have a lot to carry. But I think we look forward to it. It’s something you can only dream about, to be in this position.”