Are the Detroit Pistons in Good Hands with Stan Van Gundy?
Get ready, Motown, 'cause here he comes.
Stan Van Gundy, that is. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the Detroit Pistons have hired Van Gundy as their next head coach and president of basketball operations. Van Gundy's five-year deal is reportedly worth $35 million.
The team has since officially confirmed the hire. In the team's release, Van Gundy said the following about his decision to come to Detroit:
It is an honor to be chosen to help Tom Gores build the Pistons into a team that competes for championships. Tom’s vision of building for the future, while seeking immediate improvement is a challenge that I embrace. We will work to put a team on the floor that reflects the franchise’s rich tradition and embodies the toughness and work ethic of fans in the Detroit area.
The move back into the NBA ranks would seem a slam dunk for the elder of the Coaching Van Gundy Brothers. He'd not only return to the league as one of the highest-paid coaches in basketball but do so with far more organizational control than he ever had during his previous stints with the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic.
If ever Van Gundy were to step back into the game in an official capacity, this would be the time, the place and the circumstances for it.
But assuming he doesn't jump for the Golden State Warriors job instead, is Stan Van the right man to lead the Pistons out of their half-decade malaise and restore them to their former glory? Would hanging over the keys to Van Gundy in such a complete capacity really be in the best interest of Pistons owner Tom Gores and the entire organization?
Let's attempt to answer those questions and more by looking at the pros and cons of SVG's new union with the Pistons.
Pro: A Smart, Pragmatic Coach
Whatever his duties beyond the basketball court may be, Stan Van Gundy is and will be a coach in Detroit, first and foremost.
And a darn good one at that. Van Gundy sports a strong reputation for building systems around the talent he has on hand, rather than the other way around.
In Miami, Van Gundy's Heat played a slow, methodical style to accentuate Shaquille O'Neal's sheer size and scoring talents inside. In Orlando, his young, athletic Magic pushed the pace and fielded three-point shooters galore around Dwight Howard.
Van Gundy's pragmatic approach will come in handy as he attempts to mold the Pistons' current hodgepodge of a roster into a winning team.
Detroit has plenty of talent on hand already, among Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and restricted free agent-to-be Greg Monroe. But Van Gundy's predecessors in Detroit—namely, Lawrence Frank, Maurice Cheeks and John Loyer—struggled to fashion a style of play that could take advantage of the Pistons' size and skill on the interior while minimizing the negative impact from their overall lack of perimeter shooting.
That won't be any easy feat for Van Gundy, either, but at least he has the coaching chops to come up with creative solutions and, perhaps, become the first coach since the late, great Chuck Daly to hold down the Detroit job for more than three full seasons.
Con: No Prior Front-Office Experience
Nor will it be so easy for Van Gundy to assume the front-office duties with which he'll be charged.
Say what you will about Joe Dumars and the many dubious personnel moves that marred his tenure in Detroit. But Joe D., aside from being a franchise legend, at least had some experience in the ways of building a team, negotiating with player agents and all the other tasks, large and small, that come with being management in the NBA.
Van Gundy has no such experience of which to speak. He's never dealt with player personnel decisions firsthand, and his past squabbles with higher-ups in Miami and Orlando didn't end well.
The Pistons' situation would seem a particularly fiery baptism for someone of Van Gundy's credentials (or lack thereof). Detroit will head into the summer with substantial cap flexibility and no shortage of crucial questions to consider therein.
Should the Pistons retain Greg Monroe, a talented big man who's due for a substantial raise as a restricted free agent? And if they do, what does that mean for Josh Smith, whose shaky fit alongside Monroe and Andre Drummond was exacerbated by the sheer size of the contract (four years, $54 million) he signed last summer?
Prior to that, Van Gundy will be charged with overseeing the Pistons' operations in what's expected to be a loaded 2014 NBA draft. Any miscues on Van Gundy's part in June could come back to bite him on the court for years to come.
He'd better hop to it, then. Time's a-wastin'.
Pro: A Perfect Mentor for Andre Drummond
Whatever comes of Stan Van's front-office forays, he can still be counted on to coach and develop some of the Pistons' more promising pieces into bona fide cornerstones.
Which is an indirect way of saying that Van Gundy could be the perfect mentor for Andre Drummond. The 20-year-old center has already demonstrated some prodigious potential in his two seasons as a pro. Drummond went from tantalizing bench player as a rookie to uber-productive starter as a sophomore, finishing second in the NBA in both double-doubles (57) and field-goal percentage (.623).
To be sure, Drummond is still far from a finished product. His low-post game is elementary, at best. His free-throw shooting improved from Year 1 (37.1 percent) to Year 2 (41.8 percent), though he remains a serious liability at the line. And as tremendous an impact as Drummond can have as a rim-protector, he'll have to learn how to defend without fouling; he led the league in infractions this season, with 273 in total.
Pivots of Drummond's profile are nothing new for Van Gundy. In five seasons with the Magic, Van Gundy helped to mold Dwight Howard into a three-time Defensive Player of the Year while fashioning an offensive system that capitalized on Howard's unique strength and athleticism in the middle.
The Pistons surely have similarly high hopes for Drummond. He's already bigger and bulkier than Howard was in Orlando. With Van Gundy's tutelage and discipline, Drummond could become a similarly devastating force on both ends of the floor.
Con: His First Move Might Make Pistons Fans Cringe
Fortunately for the Pistons, Van Gundy won't have to do it alone on draft day, in free agency or at any point, really. Rather than attempt to handle all of Detroit's basketball matters himself, Van Gundy figures to delegate many of those duties to a seasoned GM.
Whether Van Gundy makes the right choice in that regard is another story entirely, especially if he opts for the former associate named by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski: "If a deal's reached in Detroit to make Stan Van Gundy president/coach, he's looking closely at hiring Otis Smith as GM."
Magic fans will probably recall Otis Smith's tenure with some disdain.
On the one hand, Smith was largely responsible for constructing the Dwight Howard-centric squad that Van Gundy guided to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.
On the other hand, it was Smith whose questionable moves (i.e., trading for Vince Carter, dealing Carter and Marcin Gortat for Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, swapping Rashard Lewis for Gilbert Arenas) in the aftermath of those playoff runs undermined the integrity of the roster and ultimately precipitated Howard's flight in 2012.
Those moves smacked of the sort of shortsighted desperation that marked some of Dumars' more suspicious personnel decisions. It's possible, then, that hiring Van Gundy, as great as he may be as a coach, may saddle the Pistons with another contemptible GM.
Con: Conflict Potential
That is, if Van Gundy doesn't wear out his welcome with his superiors first.
In Miami, Van Gundy resigned less than halfway into his third season amid speculation of conflict between him and Heat president Pat Riley. In Orlando, Van Gundy practically wrote his own pink slip by publicly calling out Magic management—without directly naming team president Alex Martins—amid the so-called "Dwightmare" in 2012.
Of course, Van Gundy won't have to worry about kissing up to or being undermined by another team president in Detroit since that'll be his axe to wield.
But that might not preclude Van Gundy from conflict entirely. On the court, he'll have to contend with the difficult personalities of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, lest he find a way to offload them this summer.
Off the court, there remains the threat of intervention from Pistons owner Tom Gores.
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the decision to fire then-Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks during the 2013-14 season was Gores', not Dumars'. Gores won't have to bypass anyone if he wants to make a change this time around, and Van Gundy won't have anyone to insulate him from his boss if Gores decides to meddle again.
Pro: Finally, Some Credibility
That being said, it's tough to imagine Gores intervening so quickly or decisively in Van Gundy's case.
Unlike Cheeks, Van Gundy brings plenty of basketball cachet to the table, thanks in large part to his past successes in the Sunshine State. He's not only coached great players, but he's guided them deep into the postseason.
Van Gundy's track record dwarfs those of the six other coaches—Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, Mo Cheeks and John Loyer—who've patrolled the sidelines at the Palace of Auburn Hills since Larry Brown led the Pistons to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005.
If nothing else, Van Gundy won't invite the same questions and concerns that those others did during their abbreviated tenures. Despite his diminutive stature, Van Gundy should have little trouble commanding the requisite respect from everyone within the Pistons organization, thanks to his impressive bona fides.
And with his rich contract, his overarching basketball powers and the Pistons' desperate desire to (finally) be relevant again, Van Gundy shouldn't be too concerned about his own longevity to begin with. As Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney noted:
Having full control of basketball operations is a means of job security in a profession that affords little. Since 2013, 18 of the league’s 30 head coaching jobs have been turned over...Given that perilous job climate and Van Gundy’s own experiences being ousted by the Heat in 2005 (on Pat Riley’s whim) and the Magic in 2012 (in a cloud of Dwight Howard drama), it’s understandable that Van Gundy would so value the ability to control the roster for himself and in the process protect himself from undue firing.
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