Pistons want Jennings for playoff push, not trade bait

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Watching from the bench, Reggie Jackson twirled a towel and jumped up and down. Andre Drummond flashed a birthday smile through his braces.

In a season of game-by-game ups and downs, the Pistons generally haven’t had opportunities to celebrate that much — especially the starters. The blowout wins have been rare, but this one had a special flare to it.

Monday night’s 115-89 victory over the Orlando Magic provided one of the highlights of the season, with Brandon Jennings showing out — posting 17 points and six assists in 18 minutes — and putting a charge into the raucous crowd at The Palace.

It’s a full-circle moment for Jennings, who ruptured his Achilles 49 weeks ago playing against Milwaukee. Although he’d had two decent game of seven points each in his first two games. But in just his fourth game back, he looked like the Brandon Jennings who electrified fans last year and had the Pistons almost pulling out of a 5-23 start.

The typical return timetable for a torn Achilles is 12 months or longer; Jennings, through a lot of work for his comeback, surprised even himself with how soon he’s been able to perform.

“I didn’t think it was going to come that fast — the fact that I was out for 12 months — but it did,” Jennings said. “It definitely feels good to get my teammates involved.”

Jennings led bench surges early in the second quarter and bridging the third and fourth quarters to help the Pistons run away.

The Pistons barely got to enjoy the breakout game before the talk turned to Jennings’ future. With an expiring contract, the common expectation is for Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy to deal him to try to get some value.

But that likely won’t be the case.

Jennings has more value likely than anyone the Pistons would get in the market — and Van Gundy has said he likes the team chemistry.

“I’ve said all along: our plan right now is that Brandon can help us make a playoff push. If something changes in the next five weeks, we’ll look at it,” Van Gundy reiterated Monday. “Right now, he’s a very good player who can help us and that’s the only way we’re looking at it.”

Case closed.

Well, almost. At least for the time being, he’s a Piston.

“You never have too many good players. Certainly from my standpoint, Brandon coming back to health, if there’s a way we could work it to have him back, I would love that,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a very good player and he’s matured into a good leader and team guy. He absolutely loves the game. Brandon does a lot for our team, even besides what he does on the court.

“What his goals will be and everything will have to mesh up. I’d love to have him back.”

What happens the rest of the season — or at least until the Feb. 18 trade deadline — could determine whether Jennings will want to come back. He’ll be a free agent and the asking price could be too much for the Pistons to ante up for another run.

“We’ll see where it goes. We’ve had talks about this year and he knows I’m not looking at this as just a this-year thing,” Van Gundy said. “Obviously, that comes down to whether the (backup) role would meet his expectations, the money…there’s a lot of things that go into it.

“I’m a big Brandon fan; I’m a big Reggie fan, too. At times they could operate together.”

Van Gundy admitted that he’s working on some sets that would have both point guards on the floor at the same time, which could have its advantages. Showing Jennings what that could look like — while still focusing on winning — will be an aim in the next few weeks, as Jennings’ minutes increase with the second unit.

Jackson backs Jennings

There’s a love and chemistry that the group is building — and that showed during Monday’s bench celebration, heaping appreciation on what Jennings had done — but only through the work he put in during the previous 11 months to get there.

“He’s special and what he did was special: 5-of-9, 17 points,” said Jackson, who supplanted Jennings as the starter after the injury. “He continuously pushed the pace.

“He was zigzagging and getting to the paint and making plays for our teammates and he really was a floor general with that unit. They strived because of what he was able to do.”

Jackson spoke in glowing terms in his post-game interview, showing the pride of a relative or close friend.

Jennings and Reggie have no ill-will toward each other; rather, they’re working together toward the end game of getting the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

“We’re teammates at the end of the day. It’s not about who should start,” Jennings said. “Everybody knows in Detroit we need to win. Everybody wants us to get to the playoffs — and that’s the main goal.”

No to Knicks

Several reports have the New York Knicks interested in trading for Jennings.

Forget about it. The Pistons can’t use very much of anything of the Sanford and Son junk pile the Knicks would have to offer.

The only exception would be if a third team got involved and presented the Pistons with an overwhelming offer that could help them immediately.

The pieces of the Pistons roster are still learning one another and potentially could rise up the Eastern Conference standings and become a top-four seed — and hosting a first-round series — by the time the postseason comes around.

There’s plenty of growth the Pistons still have to go through before that’s even a consideration, including winning the games against the dregs of the league, and staying competitive against some of the other playoff contenders, as they did for most of the game against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday and the Magic on Monday.

Jennings can be that catalyst off the bench, as he’s handling the ball on a string and pushing the offense.

Just how much he’ll be doing that in a Pistons uniform is anybody’s guess.

“Brandon and I have talked but we’re not thinking down the road now. We’ve got to win this week,” Van Gundy said. “The rest of it, as far as decisions, will take care of itself. A lot of it becomes easier when you watch things play out on the floor.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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Pistons at Celtics

Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, TD Garden, Boston

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The two teams have split both games at The Palace this season. Andre Drummond had 22 points and 22 rebounds in the last meeting on Dec. 26.