Pistons shouldn’t back themselves into corner with Reggie Jackson

Me at the Detroit Free Press on Stan Van Gundy saying “This isn’t a tryout” in regard to Reggie Jackson and where the Pistons should go from here:

The Pistons needn’t re-sign Jackson to justify trading for him.

Of course, the ideal course is bringing him back. That’s surely what the Pistons planned when they traded for him. But if Jackson, a restricted free agent this off-season, signs an offer sheet deemed too expensive, it’d be perfectly fine to let him walk.

The benefit of trading Kyle Singler, D.J. Augustin and two second-round picks for Jackson was not to have Jackson forever. It was to have the ability to match any offer he receives this summer, to get about a third of the season to evaluate him firsthand and to get about a third of a season’s worth of his production to use toward a playoff push.

That last point is probably moot, as the Pistons have fallen six games out of playoff position and to 12th place in the Eastern Conference.

But the long-term ramifications of the trade — which, for the record, I still like — remain extremely important.

The Pistons must determine 13 base numbers:

• How much they’re willing to offer Jackson on a one-, two-, three-, four- or five-year contract.

• How much they’re willing to pay Jackson on a one-, two-, three-, four- or five-year contract if negotiations with his agent mandate it.

• How much they’re willing to match on a two-, three- or four-year contract if he signs an offer sheet elsewhere. (Offer sheets with another team must be for at least two seasons and can’t be longer than four.)

Of course, there are variations to consider: team or player options, guaranteed salary, signing bonus, etc.

And that’s just the start.

Teams can begin negotiating with free agents July 1, but they can’t sign until July 9. The Pistons would have three days to match any offer sheet Jackson signs, meaning the very earliest they lose him is July 12.

By then, the Pistons should have much more information — including what other free agents are demanding, how they could use their salary cap space with or without Jackson and what trades (including sign-and-trades) are available. They’ll also know more about Brandon Jennings’ health as summer gets underway.

They’ll also know more about Jackson.

This isn’t a tryout to determine whether the Pistons want Jackson back. I’m sure they do, and I doubt that his performance down the stretch would change that.

But this isn’t a binary decision.

The Pistons must determine how much they’re willing to pay Jackson, and that’s a difficult number to set. Jackson reportedly rejected an extension from Oklahoma City worth about $48 million over four years.

I hope that Jackson is more open to accepting about $12 million per year in Detroit, where he’d be in line to start. There’s a decent chance that he was more concerned about getting stuck behind Russell Westbrook than the salary the Thunder offered.

But Jackson’s interest on the open market could change his outlook. It’s not impossible that a point guard-starved team with cap space — looking at you, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers — makes a max or near-max offer.

Yes, the salary cap is set to skyrocket in 2016, when the new national TV contracts take effect. An expensive long-term contract signed this off-season won’t look as damaging then, and Jackson qualifies for the lowest “max contract” bracket because he has spent fewer than seven seasons in the NBA.

Still, paying Jackson about $17 million per season would be concerning. The Pistons would be handling a question many teams face in this situation: Would you rather lose a player for nothing or pay a player more than you think he’s worth — and how much more?

I’m not prepared to answer those questions regarding Jackson, and I hope that the Pistons haven’t made a final determination, either.

I expect the Pistons to re-sign Jackson. But they don’t need to back themselves into a corner just because they traded for him. At this point, the trade is done. All decisions on Jackson should be based on projecting his future, not on how he was acquired.

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