Bob Wojnowski and Rod Beard talk about the Pistons after the Stan Van Gundy firing. Detroit News
For the past two seasons, many Pistons fans were going through alternate scenarios in their heads, wondering, “What if?”
What if Pistons had drafted Donovan Mitchell?
What if they didn’t trade for Blake Griffin?
What if Reggie Jackson had been healthy?
The third seems to be the most intriguing — and the one that’s most far-reaching, as they missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
After suffering a severe right-ankle sprain on Dec. 26, Jackson missed 37 games this season, as the Pistons had an impressive 19-14 start. They went 12-25 while Jackson recovered but they were too far gone to pull out of their nosedive.
The Pistons finished 39-43 and parted ways with coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday, and Jackson realizes that things could have been different if he had been able to play more.
“Being injured the past few years, I wish I could have done more and been healthy more to help us win games and to secure our future as a whole and (Van Gundy’s) future,” Jackson told The Detroit News. “I wish we could have been better the past few years and not have to get to this point.”
Jackson was Van Gundy’s hand-picked choice to run the offense, after a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in February 2015. Jackson later signed a five-year deal worth $80 million to be the centerpiece of Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll offense, complementing center Andre Drummond.
It was a controversial move at the time, but Jackson grew into the role and became one of the Pistons’ offensive leaders. Injuries have plagued him the past couple of years, though, as he also missed the first 21 games of the 2016-17 season because of knee tendinitis. The Pistons sputtered a bit and went 10-11 during that span and when they were out of playoff contention, Van Gundy shut Jackson down for the last nine games of the season.
It was another “what if” moment as Van Gundy reflected on the things that could have gone differently during his tenure.
“You always wonder about that, but your job is to win games regardless and not to come up with excuses for why you didn’t win them,” Van Gundy told The News. “It’s unfortunate for Reggie for Reggie’s sake that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. … My job was to win games regardless, and we had players that I had a lot of confidence in. We could have won more games, and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t.”
Pistons owner Tom Gores and Van Gundy discussed possibilities of an alternate ending to the tenure, but couldn’t come to an agreement, deciding to part ways instead. Van Gundy was also the team president, accountable for personnel decisions — some of which worked well, while other floundered.
Because of Jackson’s health issues, his signing looks to be a question mark, but he’s thankful for the chance Van Gundy extended to him.
“It’s difficult right now to take in. I wish him the best. I love him and his family and wish him the best in his next chapter,” Jackson said. “I was stunned by the whole thing and taken aback. He was somebody who truly believed in me and gave me my first opportunity. I wish I could have been more available and been better. I wish we could have kept growing as coach and player and made some lasting memories.”
After his return for the last 12 games, Jackson posted 14.4 points and 4.8 assists but only hit 22 percent from 3-point range, which had become one of his strengths before the injury. He’s been working throughout the summer to return to 100 percent in training camp in the fall.
The last time he was healthy for a full season, the Pistons finished 44-38 and made the playoffs; they’re looking for an even better performance next year, with a full roster and Griffin having a whole summer and training camp to adjust to the team.
They’ll also have a new coach who will bring a new system.
And instead of “what if” questions for the past, there will be more questions for the future.