Auburn Hills – — He seems like a forgotten man, displaying his vast array of suits and dress gear as opposed to the deadly jumper that made him a premium free-agency target for Stan Van Gundy, but Jodie Meeks is inching closer to his actual debut as a Piston.
Meeks, who signed a three-year deal with the Pistons early in July, has entered another phase in his recovery from a stress reaction he suffered in his lower back in training camp — one that dictates he can do some light running.
Emphasis on "light."
"Yeah, man. I think today is the seven-week mark," Meeks said. "I started on some light jogging. I don't really have a date set. I'm taking it one day at a time; hope to get back as soon as possible."
Meeks did some light court work with player development coach Quentin Richardson Friday before the Pistons played the Milwaukee Bucks, jogging baseline to baseline one week shy of the initial eight-week time line he was given by team doctors upon discovery of his injury.
It left a hole in the depth at shooting guard and in other areas on the perimeter, forcing Van Gundy to play a little bigger than he would like, as well as giving extended minutes to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who hasn't fully caught his rhythm yet offensively.
When Caldwell-Pope is playing well, getting after it defensively and hitting open shots, Meeks' absence is lessened. But one can't help but drift to thoughts of two bona fide perimeter threats, and think it could help the Pistons' miserable start.
But Meeks shouldn't be expected to be the savior, even when he does return. Although he scoffed at the notion that he won't be back until the New Year, it doesn't mean he'll jump right into rhythm and be the player who averaged nearly 16 points a game for the Lakers.
"I don't know, it'll take some time," Meeks said. "I'm more focused on getting out there and helping out. We're not playing as well as we would like to, so I think I can come in and play hard.
"It'll take some time. I haven't played yet this year. I'm more concerned with trying to play hard and trying to help that way. Rhythm and shots, that'll happen because I put in the work. The one thing I'm looking forward to is getting out there with my teammates."
Meeks is not going to rush back to action if he's not truly ready to play. If he didn't realize it before, he recognizes how central his back is to everything he does: his shot, his lateral movement, his speed. All the things that turned him from a middling player to a productive shooting guard last year.
"It's the first I've ever been seriously hurt," he said. "Other things, an ankle injury, or something, it's like a week. I'm just listening to the doctors and trainers. I want to play now but I can't, so I'll do what I can to get out there."
Wednesday was the first day he "ramped it up," so how his body responds in the coming days will affect whether the initial time line will be good or pushed back.
"Not really, it's all about how I feel and how I react to certain days where we try to ramp it up," Meeks said. "Today is the first day but we'll see."
Van Gundy struggles to stay upbeat
In the usual postgame news conference, one wouldn't describe Van Gundy as the most outgoing fellow, particularly during the second-longest losing streak of his coaching career — matched only by his first seven games as coach of the Miami Heat in 2003-04.
He made light of the difference between his usual demeanor and the one he displays after another debilitating loss.
"I actually think I'm pretty upbeat," he said sarcastically before Friday's game. "I would say my personality is, I don't know, sunshine. It's what I try to bring in every room I'm in, sunshine."
Van Gundy turned serious, though, making it clear the losses stick with him.
"There's a clear difference. It takes me a long time, it really does," he said. "When you get a day off, you get a chance to (detox). I don't think I've walked into a shoot-around or practice with a bad mood.
"I've been down after a game, doing preparation, but I don't think I've ever walked into a shoot-around or walk-through in a bad mood. I'm always pretty energetic. It's time to get on with business."