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Can Brandon Jennings mix well with other Pistons in new role?

Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Brandon Jennings drives during his game with the Pistons' D-League affiliate in Grand Rapids on Saturday night.

Auburn Hills – The Pistons received some timely gifts this holiday season.

After back-to-back road games Tuesday and Wednesday, they got rest with two days off for Christmas Eve and Christmas.

After Saturday night's home game against the Celtics, they will get more practice time with two days of workouts, followed by a road game next Tuesday against the Knicks. That might be a perfect time to let Brandon Jennings return to the court in his season of bouncing back from an Achilles tear.

Jennings showed some rust Saturday night in Grand Rapids when he played for the Pistons- D-League affiliate. It was his first game action since late January last season when he was injured. But at least he was on a basketball court. His defense was not great. It will take time before he is 100 percent. However, the Pistons don't need Jennings for his defense right now.

The dude is a baller and they could use his moxie and scoring in their bid to make the playoffs. Will he be "Super J" right off the bat? Probably not. He will become that when he is fully indoctrinated about his role in coming off the bench and when his body is closer to 100 percent.

His new role might be awkward at first and there are questions about if he can handle being a reserve.

He will handle it. He must handle it.

Jennings won't be the team leader; that role belongs to Reggie Jackson. But in time he could be a leader of individual players -- players such as Stanley Johnson, Aron Baynes and Anthony Tolliver. Players who, like Jennings, will be coming off the bench. Jennings will give this group substance.

There is so much at stake for Jennings and the Pistons. Jennings becomes a free agent after this season. If he comes in and plays well without complaints his stock will rise. If he mopes and is outplayed by Johnson and Steve Blake, he will lose money and respect around the league.

Before his injury, Jennings was showing signs of maturity as a point guard. He used to be a guy that cared more about statistics and looking good than winning. Jennings flipped up the most ill-timed and awkward shots in a Pistons and Bucks uniform. Sometimes it worked, often it did not.

But last season Jennings began to figure out how to play team ball. His 8.3 assists per 36 minutes were a career high. And his 19.4 points a game for 36 minutes were his second best.

The Pistons didn't win right away. They first survived a Josh Smith-induced coma that led to a 5-23 record. After that the Pistons won 13 of 16 games before Jennings was injured.

Jennings pushed the Pistons at a brisk pace. What he didn't figure out was how to run the team in the second half of games when teams stopped running with the Pistons and slowed down the pace.

However, that is no longer a factor. Jennings does not need to quarterback the Pistons in the second half. That role falls to Jackson, and you can bet there will be times when the two play together in the second half. They might at times be defensive liabilities, but they will also be difficult to stop.

Jennings has worked hard since his injury. He is a different guy than he was two years ago. He carries a stronger voice and is going to show tougher love than Andre Drummond or Jackson.

The current Pistons players must understand that the only time they won titles they had tough on-court leaders. Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn under the Bad Boys were strong and forceful leaders. Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups pushed their agendas, as well.

It can't always be comfortable with teammates and friends if you want to be a champion.

Celtics at Pistons

Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, The Palace of Auburn Hills

TV / radio: FSD / 105.1 FM

Outlook: The Pistons beat the Celtics 119-116 at The Palace 10 days ago in a game that featured a half-court make by Andre Drummond and a career-high 31 points by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. ... The Celtics (16-13) are led by Isaiah Thomas (20.9 points, 6.8 assists) and Jared Sullinger (9.9 points, 9.5 rebounds).