For some teams, NBA training camp is about cleaning off the rust after a summer away from the game and preparing for the physical grind of an 82-game regular season.
For others, like the Detroit Pistons, it's a time to align a number of moving pieces and get them all functioning as a cohesive machine with a common goal. Detroit's offseason featured a dramatic overhaul, both on its roster and along the sideline.
At full strength, that's a tremendous challenge to undertake. Even the two-time defending champion Miami Heat needed a full season together before solving their championship puzzle.
But these Pistons aren't at full strength. And their most recent subtraction will be their most painful, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:
#Pistons announce Brandon Jennings out at least three weeks with impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of mandible at base of tooth.— Vincent Ellis (@Vincent_Ellis56) October 15, 2013
Brandon Jennings, the man with the greatest say in snapping Detroit's current four-year playoff drought, might not miss a lot of regular-season action.
But his absence casts an ominous shadow over what should have been a season of hope for the Pistons.
Next Man Up
Any time a player goes down with an injury, teams rally around his exit and cite the importance of a collective rise in his absence.
If it was only so easy.
The Pistons aren't without other options at the lead guard spot, but try to find the name that instills the most confidence from what's left:
Bynum, Billups, Siva, KCP, Singler. #Pistons still have enough backcourt depth. But Datome, Stuckey, Jennings absences limits flexibility.— Keith Langlois (@Keith_Langlois) October 15, 2013
Not so easy is it? There's quantity here, but where's the quality?
You have a has-been (37-year-old Chauncey Billups), a never-was (Will Bynum, career 8.1 points per game) and a host of unproven performers (Kyle Singler and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva).
Billups has to be on a minutes restriction at this stage of his career. He's played just 42 games over the last two seasons combined. When he wasn't donning David Stern-approved street clothes on the Los Angeles Clippers' sideline, he was serving as a floor spacer (37.7 three-point percentage) not a setup man (3.1 assists per game), as per Rotoworld.
Bynum is the type of player fans hope gets put on a minutes restriction. He can't shoot (career 26.9 three-point percentage) and makes questionable decisions with the basketball (career 3.2 assists against 1.6 turnovers). Now 30 years old, he's not likely to raise his ceiling above mediocre (career 14.7 player efficiency rating).
Singler and Caldwell-Pope are wing players, so their presences don't help here. Siva was the 56th player selected in June's draft, which says everything you need to know about his pro potential.
Rodney Stuckey might be an option if not for the fact that he's sidelined himself with a fracture in his thumb. Not to mention he's more of a scorer (career 13.4 points per game) than a distributor (4.2 assists).
Jennings was the only one of this bunch expected to consistently move the needle for the Pistons. That might not speak highly of Joe Dumars' summer renovation—considering Jennings is just a 39.4 percent shooter from the field for his career—but speaks even lower about the players behind him on the depth chart.
Jennings has his own red flags, but at least he's a proven scorer (career 17.0 points per game) and a serviceable decision maker (5.7 assists against 2.4 turnovers in 34.6 career minutes per game).
His reputation as a scorer will demand more defensive attention than any of his backcourt teammates will get. That extra perimeter attention offered the most hope that Maurice Cheeks could actually survive with an over-sized frontcourt in today's downsizing league.
Jennings' biggest challenge was supposed to be making all of these new players mesh and leading the playoff-hopeful Pistons strong out of the gate. Now he'll be forced to play a game of catch up that just might undermine this team's chance for success.
Lost Time Never Returns
There's no telling how long Jennings will be out. But whatever time is missed will be just that—missed time.
He can't return to health and suddenly be transported back to the early stages of training camp. This isn't baseball; there is no extended spring training for him to work his way back into the team's plans.
When he's ready to go, he'll be unleashed. The onus falls on him and his teammates to catch their collective rhythm on the fly.
The Pistons have more new players this season (eight) than old ones (seven). The coaching staff was gutted over the summer.
This was supposed to be the time when these new pieces came together and forged their unity. When Cheeks figured out how to make three talented, post-oriented players (Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond) work alongside a shoot-first point guard.
And when that shoot-first point guard (Jennings) proved he really could be a distributor. That his former Milwaukee Bucks really had plagued his production the way he told NBC Sports' Dan Feldman they did.
This was the time for Jennings to find his comfort zone, one that hopefully looked nothing like his old one. A chance for him to hone his passing skills and figure out how to complement his passing with his scoring, not vice versa.
Will the Pistons snap their playoff drought this season?
Film study can only teach him so much. Cheeks' guidance cannot protect him when that opening tip gets tossed.
Jennings will have to be willing to undergo what could be a turbulent transition when he's ready to return. He'll need to learn where his teammates are most effective on the floor and fight the urge to fire at will when they don't capitalize on his assists.
And he'll need to do all of this with flawless execution. The freedom of preseason will have ended before he's ready to go.
Games will matter the next time Jennings takes the floor. Any mid-season experimenting could be the difference between another lost season and a return to relevance.
Playoff bubbles aren't often burst this early in the year. But I just heard a pop, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't from Jennings' jaw.