The Pistons are just a few days from starting training camp — and the most persistent question still is about the health of Reggie Jackson’s left knee. Pistons fans hope those queries will subside, along with the tendinitis, through the season.
It’s a pervasive point, but no matter what else goes on, Jackson’s health will remain the focus for this construction of the Pistons’ roster. As we saw last season, no Jackson means no playoffs. Sure, there are four other players on the court and 14 others on the roster, but the moment that Pistons president Stan Van Gundy extended a five-year contract for $80 million to Jackson two years ago, the team’s lot was cast with Jackson.
Van Gundy and the training staff put Jackson on a special training regimen this summer, aimed at strengthening his knees — and less wear-and-tear with constant work through the offseason — in hopes that he can return to his 2016 form.
While Jackson is ramping up his routine to be ready for the start of the season on Oct. 18, the Pistons most assuredly are going to be careful with his workload — in theory, even limiting him on back-to-backs — and assuring that he’s playing at closer to a peak level.
This edition of the Pistons mailbag looks at how the Pistons can improve on some of their weaker points from last season.
■ Question: After the health of Reggie Jackson, what is the most important narrative to follow this season? — @shamshammgod
■ Answer: There are so many that I could answer this in an 18-part response but in lieu of that, I’ll try to narrow it to one: Avery Bradley. Other interesting ones are Stanley Johnson’s development as a potential starter, Andre Drummond’s all-around game, Van Gundy’s future, team leadership, Tobias Harris’ role and how the bench shuffle will work.
Bradley is important because he could set the course for the franchise for the next few years. In his coaching role, Van Gundy should gear everything toward convincing Bradley — who is in the final year of his deal — to stay. He might have the biggest upside of any of their players, and if he bolts, they’ll essentially have given up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris for a year of Bradley. Not ideal.
Van Gundy gambled on Bradley, who could be a superstar-in-waiting if Van Gundy can make him an integral part of the offense and Bradley’s defense continues to be stellar. Keeping him might also take a max contract, but that was understood to be part of the risk in letting Caldwell-Pope walk away.
Bradley’s 16.3 points with the Celtics would have led the Pistons last season and his 6.1 rebounds would have ranked second behind Drummond.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Bradley to maintain those numbers this season, but much like 2016, they’ll need to spread the ball around, with Jackson as the catalyst.
■ Q. Who takes the role that Marcus Morris filled in holding other guys accountable? — @Bryan_10s
■ A. Van Gundy said last season when things started to go sideways, he talked to Morris and Caldwell-Pope first to try to pull them back together. With both of them gone, one would think it falls to Drummond and Jackson.
That’s where Bradley also can help fill a void.
His seven years in the league are second-most on the team and his resume with the Celtics will gain him instant respect in the locker room.
■ Q. Will the new arena help, hurt or be a non-factor? — @MarvTurn78
■ A. I had a chance to tour Little Caesars Arena a couple weeks ago — and it’ll definitely help. The sightlines are awesome and the viewing angle is different, so it’ll be more cozy and intimate, with even the higher seats better than those at The Palace.
What’ll be interesting is to see what the fan base looks like now. Many of the Oakland County faithful may still travel downtown, but the hope was to bring more new fans from the city and points west like downriver, Novi and Ann Arbor.
In any case, it’ll take some time to get used to, but I’d expect the first season at LCA will be very good, from a logistical perspective and from the new-home point of view.