Now that Stan Van Gundy has accepted a five-year, $35 million contract to become the Detroit Pistons' new head coach and president of basketball operations, it’s time for him to plot a course for the ailing franchise.
Detroit missed out on postseason action for the fifth consecutive year in 2013-14—finishing 29-53 for the second straight season. Maurice Cheeks was fired in February after a 21-29 start. The team then limped to an 8-24 finish under interim coach John Loyer.
Although the Pistons won a championship in 2004 under former president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, the former Executive of the Year went through 10 different coaches during his 14-year tenure. The continued mediocrity forced Dumars to resign from his position in April.
Missing the playoffs in the meek Eastern Conference after splurging on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings during free agency wasn’t what fans wanted to see. SVG can flip that narrative moving forward, but only if he sets a tangible vision. At the very least, in his words, “There’s no excuses now.”
“One of the big problems at least in our league right now in a lot of places is there is not a great connection necessarily between front office and coaching,” Van Gundy said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). “This setup -- nothing to do with power -- it allows us to really create a tremendous synergy and a very unified organization.”
The mustachioed Van Gundy brother is of course referencing his dual role as coach and president of basketball operations. The responsibility to build a roster and coach that squad to wins now falls on the shoulders of one man.
SVG added the following of that dynamic, per the AP:
There’s no excuses now. What happens a lot of times in this thing is -- and I know because I talk to coaches all the time. Coaches say, ‘I’m doing a great job but this guy is not getting me good enough players.’ And the front office is telling ownership, ‘We put together a great roster and the coach is screwing it up.’
There’s none of that anymore. It’s on us to get it done.
The Pistons have a rock-solid building block in place via 20-year-old center Andre Drummond.
The youngster out of Connecticut led the team with 9.9 win shares (an estimate of the number of wins added by a player) during his sophomore season, which also ranked him 16th in the entire NBA, per Basketball-Reference.com. He shot 62.3 percent from the floor with averages of 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. He also hauled in a ridiculous 5.4 offensive boards per contest—by far the best in the Association.
Building around that untapped potential is a no-brainer for SVG moving forward. In fact, an anonymous league GM said the following of that aspect, per Sporting News’ Sean Deveney: "There are two things that made that job better for Stan. One is the fact that he gets to make personnel decisions, that is a big deal of course. But the other is Andre Drummond. If you want to build your team around a young player, Drummond is the guy."
So what should Pistons fans make of restricted free agent Greg Monroe?
The incumbent frontcourt of Drummond, Monroe and Smith didn’t jell at all during their first season together. If Van Gundy is plotting to build around the youngest member, the former Georgetown standout, Monroe, could be gone.
Still, SVG said the following when asked about Monroe’s future with the team, per the AP: "I want to start the process by sitting down with Greg face to face, talking about how he sees himself, how he sees our organization, and giving me a chance to talk to him about my vision for what goes on and how I think we can create a system that will fully maximize his abilities."
That doesn’t sound as if Van Gundy plans to sever ties with the big man, but that’s also not something he’d simply come out and say.
As Deveney writes, SVG may be planning the best possible deal for both parties involved:
Van Gundy’s priority will be to work with Monroe and [his agent David] Falk to find a sign-and-trade deal, allowing Van Gundy to address the big weakness on this team—perimeter shooting, a vital aspect of Van Gundy’s offensive approach. The Pistons shot 32.1 percent from the 3-point line, which was 29th in the league last season.
Van Gundy has plenty of work to do to make Detroit a viable NBA contender. Doing so likely starts with the decision to sign and trade Monroe and slide J-Smoove to power forward—anything to prevent him from shooting 3.4 three-pointers per game again.
Regardless of how Detroit returns to prominence, it has to happen through Van Gundy. He’s the big cheese now in a lot of aspects. As long as he can bring in the personnel he desires, there’s no reason why the successful coach can’t thrive once again.