Stan Van Gundy has his work cut out for him with the Detroit Pistons.
After signing on as the head coach and president of basketball operations, SVG is now tasked with turning around a talented team that struggled its way to a 29-53 record during the 2013-14 season.
This was a squad that was supposed to compete for a playoff berth, especially given the inherent weakness of an injury- and incompetence-riddled Eastern Conference. After the team added both Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to the lineup, the playoffs were supposed to be an easily attainable goal.
But as the NBA has taught time after time, "supposed to" doesn't always mean anything in professional basketball.
Jennings struggled with his shot throughout the year, and Smith was even worse. Granted, both players are talented and versatile enough to make a positive impact in many areas, but their offensive decision-making was just putrid. And that might be kind, as putridity can't even begin to explain how bad Smoove's perimeter jumper was.
Pat Caputo doesn't feel like being kind as he writes for The Morning Sun:
Brandon Jennings, the point guard the Pistons are apparently stuck with, is, at best, an erratic ball distributor and wildly inconsistent shooter. There is the matter of big money free agent Josh Smith. He is a power forward, who failed as a small forward.
There are two enduring visuals of the 2013-14 Pistons. One is of Smith jacking up an endless stream of 3-point shots, the other of Jennings being all over the place as he moves down the court like a malfunctioning drone.
But are the Pistons really stuck with Jennings? Are they really stuck with either of the two "enduring visuals" going forward?
Van Gundy isn't just going to sit back and watch as he's saddled with two liabilities; instead, he'll actively look at moving them.
Take Advantage of the Brooklyn Nets
The Pistons have two players they'd love to get off their hands, and the Nets have one. They're a match made in heaven!
It's not easy to trade supremely overpaid players, but that's what both of these teams are trying to do over the offseason. Finding someone willing to take on such an exorbitant salary is quite problematic, especially when the players with that monetary tag aren't exactly flawless.
As established above, those players are Jennings and Smith for the Pistons. For the Nets, it would be Deron Williams.
The talented Brooklyn point guard averaged 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game during the 2013-14 season, but he ultimately couldn't get the job done in the postseason—far from it, as he was just a shell of his former self.
D-Will posted 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 dimes per contest during the playoff festivities, but he did so while shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 34 percent beyond the arc. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Williams' player efficiency rating in the postseason was a subaverage 14.7.
Once more, this was a far cry from the version of Williams that actually challenged Chris Paul and the rest of the NBA's premier point guards for ultimate supremacy a few years back. Is it time for a change of scenery?
Maybe so, though there's also a chance that the semipermanent injured state Williams has found himself in will never allow him to look like his old self. It's a chance Detroit could be willing to take if it means exchanging two ugly salaries for one, even as bad as Williams' monetary status may be.
This trade would be a simple one—Jennings and Smith for Williams. No picks would be involved, and no roster fodder would be trading hands.
Even in his declined state, D-Will is more effective than Jennings. That much is clear just by looking at some advanced stats from their respective 2013-14 seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com:
|Jennings vs. Williams|
Jennings was a slightly better passer, but that's about it.
His shooting stroke was worthless, and he used it far too often. Williams at least faded into the background when his shots weren't connecting. And let's not forget about defense, where the right-handed floor general is significantly better than his southpaw counterpart.
On the surface level, Smith still pushes the deal over the top for Brooklyn. He and Jennings are a better package than just the 29-year-old point guard, but this isn't about pure talent. It's about getting rid of toxic commodities and hoping that new environments make all the difference.
If D-Will can even resemble his old self, he's everything that Detroit needs—an outside shooter, a big body at point guard and a defensive presence. On top of that, he frees up Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in the frontcourt, where they won't be plagued by Smoove's ability to act like a black hole.
Separate Deals During the Season
Moving Smith and Jennings together may end up being next to impossible.
Other than the Nets, what team is actually going to be willing to take on both of those potential liabilities? On top of that, what team has the desire and the financial abilities to make it happen?
There really isn't anyone.
Ultimately, Van Gundy will have to try to make things work with these players in the fold. And he's a strong enough strategic mind that he could successfully make Jennings and Smith both work in the Detroit lineup, especially if Monroe is moved or allowed to walk away during the offseason.
But let's say things don't pan out as the Pistons would prefer.
If that's the case, the team will end up having to make a series of moves. Once more, moving the two players together is nearly impossible, but the same can't be said about them as individuals. And if things aren't going swimmingly, you can be sure that SVG will actually try to change everything that's wrong.
Here's what he recently told MLive.com's David Mayo:
What we can't do is take a shortcut to that. The shortcut is, 'This guy's not doing what we want, this isn't the culture we want, but he's a pretty good player and I want to win tonight's game, so I'm going to put him out there for 35 minutes anyway.'
If we have to take some hits early in the season to build our culture, as much as we want to win now -- and it's something we're going to talk about with our players -- we want to win now but we're not going to take any shortcuts to that.
Now there are many possibilities here, but let's go ahead and run with this hypothetical scenario, just as a way of establishing the level of talent Detroit could get back for its troubles.
In the first trade, the Pistons could send Jennings to the Sacramento Kings for Isaiah Thomas, whose contract will presumably be in the same range after he hits restricted free agency. So long as a future draft pick is attached, it's hard to see either team saying no to such a deal.
Thomas, the former Mr. Irrelevant, is a more dangerous outside shooter who could help space out the court, and the Kings would gain a player with more distributing skills to run the show for them. Remember, though, this is just one example.
Secondly, the Pistons would have to move Smith. And given that he's saddled with a contract well north of eight figures, that's a tough proposition.
Just imagine Detroit swinging him, once more along with a future pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers for Thaddeus Young and Jason Richardson, with the latter being thrown in to make salaries match. The Sixers would upgrade the talent level of their roster, as well as add to the defensive potential, while the Pistons would have a piece who actually fits in with the current makeup of the team.
Oh, and both players have far more reasonable deals, especially J-Rich, whose contract expires at the end of 2014-15, if he even picks up the player option in the first place (which we have to assume he does for this trade to work).
The combined efforts of these deals would leave Detroit without Smith, Jennings and a pair of future draft selections, but Motor City would also pick up Thomas, Young and Richardson.
How appealing does a five-man lineup of Thomas, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Young, Monroe and Drummond sound? Pretty darn good, right?
There's no guarantee that SVG has to make moves. For all we know, he could turn the current composition of this roster into something at least resembling a competitive club.
However, if he does, this is the type of process that would be required.
Basically, don't expect Detroit to be free from rumors between now and the 2014-15 trade deadline.