Toronto — The Pistons feared the worst for Brandon Jennings and now they must embark upon life without the point guard for the rest of the season, as an MRI confirmed Sunday afternoon a full tear of his left Achilles tendon.
Jennings' left leg gave way in the third quarter of the Pistons' blowout loss Saturday to the Milwaukee Bucks, and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said after the game that "it doesn't look good," a precursor to Jennings' diagnosis when he returned to Detroit Sunday. Jennings now faces a rehabilitation process that is expected to last six to nine months.
"I've texted him a couple times but I haven't heard back," Van Gundy before the Pistons played the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. "He's with his fiancé, his family. They're all with him. They saw the doctor, they got the news and then we'll decide how we'll proceed with everything else. It'll be Brandon's decision."
More practically, it usually takes 7-12 months for a complete recovery, and even longer for a player to potentially return to his previous talent level.
Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko suffered a torn Achilles on the first exhibition game of the 2010-11 season, causing him to miss the entire season.
"It was like learning to walk again," Jerebko said after Saturday night's game.
The Pistons' season turned when Jennings was turned up, and now the Pistons face some true adversity, both now headed into the All-Star break and for the rest of the season. Firmly in the playoff hunt, the Pistons don't appear to have any designs of shutting it down, but the margin for error just became slimmer.
"This has been a season of adjustment," Van Gundy said. "We came into the year hoping it would go one way. It didn't. We made a big adjustment around Christmas (releasing Josh Smith). We had things go in a different direction. This will certainly go in a different direction. How much will depend on how we play. I think we're changing all the time."
Jennings is coming off the best month of his professional career (20.9 points, 7.2 assists, a +12.5 points per game while on the floor) leading the Pistons back to the playoff race after a 5-23 start.
If Jennings isn't the Pistons' best player, he's certainly the most explosive and clearly the emotional barometer with his confidence and attitude that seemed to permeate through the team over the past month.
"He was pretty down. The guy loves playing basketball, probably as much as anybody I've been around," Van Gundy said. "He plays all summer, he loves being in the gym and on top of that he was having the best year of his career — particularly lately."
"It's tough for us but tougher for him. I feel bad for him because he was playing so well and to have it end when he was playing so well was unfortunate."
The Pistons will look for a third point guard, either in the D-League or possibly through the trade market, as well as giving D.J. Augustin an increased role and giving second-round draft pick Spencer Dinwiddie a role.
But they won't be able to replace Jennings' swagger, and it appears his injury has made Van Gundy appreciate the point guard more than before. Taking on the challenge of playing the deepest position in the NBA, and reintroducing himself as a star player to the league's best was something he took immense pride in.
"I think guys are in that shock time right now. And Brandon was the guy that had the most outward, visible confidence," Van Gundy said. "Both in himself and the team. He really thought we were gonna kick everybody's butt every night. And showed that on the floor, and it gave his teammates more belief."
Van Gundy said Jennings became more vocal after the release of Josh Smith, unlocking what Caron Butler said was Jennings' "Star DNA".
"Since Josh had been gone, he had been empowered to take a leadership role," Van Gundy said. "Besides the play, that's gonna have to come from somewhere. We're gonna need guys to play with that kind of confidence."
By the time training camp begins in September, Jennings, 25, will enter the final year of a three-year deal he signed in July 2013, hoping to pick up where he left off this season, playing the best basketball of his career.
But for now, there's surgery, recovery and rehabilitation — a long road ahead for the guard just finding his footing — before his foot gave out.