If Jeff Bower feels like a re-tread, it’s because that’s what he is. Oftentimes, when it comes to hiring a general manager to run the communications end of your basketball team, that’s exactly what you want. They know where all the good auto parts stores are, so to speak.
Of course, Detroit Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy is also a re-tread, coaching his third NBA team in less than a decade, but that didn’t stop him from being perhaps the hottest name on the market during this offseason’s coaching carousal. The former Heat and Magic coach was given absolute personnel carte blanche by Pistons owner Tom Gores recently, and while SVG may have final say in basketball matters, he still needs a general manager with experience to handle the day to day duties of keeping up with the league from up top.
This is why Van Gundy’s first hire will likely be Jeff Bower as general manager, as first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Bower is best known in NBA circles as the GM and eventual coach of the Hornets franchise, a stint that saw him pair great moves with so-so action, all while working under less than ideal conditions – namely having to re-locate to Oklahoma City for a season after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, all while dealing with a parsimonious yet meddling owner in George Shinn.
Bower created a winner in New Orleans behind Chris Paul and David West, two draft acquisitions. New Orleans even made the second round of the playoffs in 2009, rare air for a franchise (pick one, Charlotte, New Orleans, whomever) that has struggled to stay relevant of late, before age and injuries caught up with the team in the years that followed.
He did well to secure Paul and (especially) West after several teams passed over on those eventual All-Stars, but on the flip side of that Bower also went deep in on acquiring the rights to free agents who were already working past their primes. Peja Stojakovic and James Posey were signed to contribute spacing and guidance around the team’s young core, in moves that were (in the most extreme case with Posey) criticized at the time. Bower did well to secure Tyson Chandler from the skinflint Chicago Bulls franchise for an expiring contract and players (J.R. Smith, Howard Eisley) Chicago later dumped, but Chandler’s bad back and toes eventually forced New Orleans to send him to Charlotte for a solid-if-unspectacular Emeka Okafor.
By the time Paul missed 37 games in 2009-10, Bower was forced into coaching his team, which missed the playoffs. The Hornets returned to give the Los Angeles Lakers a competitive first round in 2011 with Monty Williams as coach, but Bower was let go after that season.
He and Van Gundy will inherit a nasty situation in Detroit, but one that isn’t without upside. It’s true that in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons have two players who seemed to have tailed off years ago despite their age, working with borderline untradeable contracts (three years and $40.5 million left for Smith, two years and $16.3 million for Jennings). It does only takes one sucker to talk themselves into dealing for someone like Smith or Jennings over a summer, but those sorts of NBA GMs are becoming harder and harder to find.
The Pistons also wasted 2013-14 without a lottery pick as reward, thanks to a 2012 deal that was pitched to acquire cap space for 2013 (used on Smith and Jennings), and the team still has to figure out what to do with scoring forward Greg Monroe once the market sets its claws into his potential. Monroe has his faults as a defender and isn’t a great fit with some frontcourts, but plenty of teams will have cap space to throw at the restricted free agent this summer, and the Pistons may decline to get into a bidding war for his services. With a new front office in charge, it might be easier to make such dispassionate choices.
The bright side comes in the form of expiring contracts – Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey – and what could be over $20 million in cap room if the team decides to completely pass on making Monroe and Stuckey Pistons again. The team has Andre Drummond’s expected maximum contract extension to consider next summer, and with so many teams attempting to flail away in hopes of landing what they can pass off as a big fish when all the notable free agents stay home this summer, the Pistons could do well to do what former GM Joe Dumars did in his first few years running the show – take advantage of other teams’ financial frustrations in order to help others make deals, while accruing assets as a reward.
Dumars was a relative novice back then, and he had longtime NBA executive John Hammond’s rolodex to work with. Jeff Bower may have been out of the NBA for a few years, working as head basketball coach (with a bent toward analytics) at Marist, but his cell phone is still loaded with names. He’s still in touch.
That’s a brainy outfit, with Van Gundy and Bower running things. The only issue is, in a league that is getting smarter and smarter, will the duo be able to pounce at the right times and opportunities needed to turn these Pistons around?
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