Salt Lake City — If the Pistons’ season hasn’t been decided already, the six-game western trip could be the tilt that moves it either toward a definitive finish or toward potentially salvaging the final playoff spot in the East.
At 30-36, the Pistons are holding on to the last shreds of being able to make anything of this season. They’re five games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for eighth place and the upcoming slate isn’t favorable: white-hot Utah on Tuesday, Denver on Thursday and Portland, the current No. 3 seed in the West, on Sunday.
While the Pistons got an initial boost after the Blake Griffin trade, they’ve fallen off since, giving rise to the notion that they’ve given up on the season and already are thinking about next year. Players have said that they are still competing at the same high level, but the desired results haven’t been there.
This week’s Pistons Mailbag has questions about the remainder of this season, plus the path forward with the current roster construction.
Question: At what point does SVG reconsider using Reggie (Jackson) and shut him down for the year? Absent the playoffs and assuming (Tom Gores) is willing to stay the course the upside of seeing the big 3 together is not offset by the risk. — Steven Matthews (@SteveM_OD)
Answer: There really is no risk to bringing Jackson back this season, even if it’s for 10 games, let’s say. It might just do more good, in giving Jackson, Griffin and Andre Drummond some time to mesh. Clearly, Jackson won’t be 100 percent, but even having him on the court will give him some confidence going into the summer and give them a clue of what other pieces need to be around them in the rotation.
Jackson can run pick-and-roll with either Drummond or Griffin and is a better perimeter shooter than Ish Smith. Jackson was the corner piece of the offense before the injury and not having him has been the biggest hindrance for the Pistons’ success this season. That might be coach Stan Van Gundy’s biggest reason to come back next year, to finish it out with the roster he created.
Q. Assume you’re in SVG’s shoes... what the one thing you would have done differently this year? — Matthew Crowe (@MatthewCrowe313)
A. This is a trick question, because it relies on hindsight, which is always right.
Knowing what we know now, this is an easy one: draft Donovan Mitchell.
Assuming everything else stayed the same, Mitchell would have been able to step in after the Jackson injury and play point guard, keeping Smith on the bench and not breaking up the rotation. Obviously, Mitchell has developed into an elite young talent — and no, Van Gundy wouldn’t have saddled Mitchell to the bench if he had drafted him — who could have helped the Pistons in many ways.
Q. Which player is more likely gone after this year, Jackson or Drummond? Because Drummond is not equipped for the modern-day NBA if he can’t shoot. — Trevor Meints (@Tmeints12)
A. I guess it depends on the package of players that the Pistons would get in return. Drummond seems to be the logical answer, because he’s a two-time All-Star who’s durable and still hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential. That’s also more of a reason to keep him, especially paired with Griffin.
Jackson has injury concerns over the past two seasons, so he’d bring back a lower return. His salary is a little better than Drummond’s in trade, but if Elfrid Payton is only worth a second-round pick, does that really even constitute a good trade? Jackson, if healthy, can provide more to the Pistons than any other team, because of his pick-and-roll chemistry with Drummond and his outside shooting.
I guess that means neither is a better trade option.
Q. Any chance Reggie is ready for this road trip? — SaRap Fresh (@SaRap_Fresh)
A. I’d assume this means Jackson, but after Bullock’s automobile accident, it could refer to either one.
The projection a couple weeks ago was that Jackson could be back if his rehab progressed smoothly. It hasn’t. He hasn’t been able to move as freely in one-on-one drills but he looked better on Monday. It’s still a wait-and-see approach, but my guess is he’ll be available might be next week, when the Pistons face Sacramento, Phoenix and Houston.
Pistons at Jazz
Tipoff: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Vivint Smart Home Arena
Outlook: The Pistons (30-36) have lost 10 of their last 13 games and the Jazz (37-30) have won 18 of their last 20, beginning with their victory over the Pistons on Jan. 24. This is the first of six-game trip for the Pistons that concludes on March 22.