Auburn Hills — Brandon Jennings emerged from the informal workouts at The Palace practice facility, looking somewhat similar to the figure who departed to California after last season’s disappointing, playoff-less finish.
Playful swagger? Check.
Rare introspection? Check
Twenty-five extra pounds? Check…wait, that wasn’t here last season
“I’m about 185, 190 on my good days,” said Jennings, noticeably thicker but still wiry.
Training camp doesn’t begin until the first day of October but Jennings and his other 14 teammates have all been at The Palace for a few weeks, per new coach/president Stan Van Gundy’s request.
“Usually guys come in and you don’t see them until media day,” Jennings said. “It’s good, we’ve been together for three weeks strong, preparing for the season.”
He said Van Gundy reminds him of his first coach in Milwaukee, Scott Skiles (Michigan State).
“He’s really big on details and he said you’re gonna have to play defense and give your all, every night,” Jennings said. “He already said it, I’m not expecting you to lock guys up one on one. Guys are just too good. But what we can do is give a good effort and play team defense.”
He said the added weight should help on the defensive end, as well as absorbing contact when he goes to the basket. He and new assistant coach Tim Hardaway have bonded quickly, as Hardaway, one of the most feared point guards during his era, will try to impart some wisdom.
“He’s still got it, it’s just way slower,” said Jennings of Hardaway’s game. “We’ve been working every day and putting a lot of emphasis on working on my shot.”
Entering his second season in Detroit after a sign-and-trade landed him a three-year contract, Jennings reflected on his up-and-down debut as a Piston, where he averaged a career-high in assists (7.6) but tied for his career worst scoring output (15.5 points).
“I’m gonna be honest. It was my worst year,” said Jennings, repeating it for emphasis. “Dealing with all types of things. The fractured jaw, losing weight, not being able to play preseason, missing games. Then getting into a rhythm, then Mo (Cheeks) was fired and I’m back down again. It was just the worst season ever, a roller coaster.”
The fractured jaw he suffered before camp began. It contributed to — but was not wholly responsible — for a season in which he battled mostly with himself, his wanting-to-please-everybody watching, and his instincts.
In tune to the criticism more than ever, as he was around the most talent he’d been with in his four-year career, he desperately wanted to make it work.
“He shoots too much.”
“He’s not a passer.”
“He doesn’t play defense.”
Jennings heard it all, and his play, at times brilliant and others perplexing, reflected his confusion. His 37.3 percent field-goal shooting was slightly better than his career-low 37.1 output from his rookie year.
“Some games I wouldn’t even shoot,” Jennings said. “This year I’ll hoop, I’ll just play basketball. The only (guys) I’ll listen to is Stan and the coaching staff.”
He admits buying in is easy, but what he doesn’t want to experience again is the lack of accountability within the locker room that occurred at the slightest hint of adversity.
“This year will definitely be different. But I feel like as players, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘I (bleeped) up. I missed up,’ ” Jennings said. “If you can hold yourself accountable and always stop pointing the finger at other people, then everything is good because everybody respects everybody in the locker room. You have to be able to talk.
“I always believed that. Always. But you have to be genuine about that. You can’t just be like “my bad”. Naw, you gotta explain it. I should’ve gotten there, I should’ve helped. I mean, we’re adults now (laughs). We gotta start acting like it.”
He corrected himself, choosing the word “professionals” but added he didn’t finish the season like one, clearly bothered by why and how Maurice Cheeks was fired 50 games into the season. Cheeks and Jennings grew close in a short time, and he never shook himself out of his own funk afterward.
“Did I pout? I think I did and a lot of it came from everybody. You see someone doing it, then you pout. It was just a constant thing.”
He retreated back to his native California after the season, taking two weeks off before getting back into the swing of things. With D.J. Augustin as a free agent addition and Will Bynum still on the roster, competition will be feisty and minutes will be had if Jennings has erratic nights.
“Not at all, I’m ready,” Jennings said when asked if the competition bothers him. “We gotta get over that hump.”
The hump, you ask? The NBA playoffs.
“We haven’t been there since 2009, it’s time to get back, and with a coach like Stan we have a couple of TV games this year. We have to live up to that.”