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- American basketball coach
It was assumed by most that this was always going to be somewhat of a lost year for the Detroit Pistons. Nobody expected them to tank, or vie for the worst record in their conference, but because the soil was so salted in the wake of Joe Dumars’ disastrous final half-decade with the team, it was going to take new Pistons coach and overall el jefe Stan Van Gundy at least a year to create the team as he saw fit.
The Pistons, technically, are a mediocre squad right now, fighting for a lower-rung playoff berth as that previously referred to “most” expected. What wasn’t expected was how the team got here: Detroit started the season by tossing itself into the dregs of the Eastern Conference, before righting itself and winning 12 of 15 games. Everyone expected sub-average from the Pistons this year, and that’s exactly where they’re ranked at 17-26; but in ranging from “terrible” to “fantastic” on the way toward sub-average, the Pistons have shocked us all.
After those two first terrible months, though, there had to be some feints and fears, right? While visiting the team he owns on Wednesday evening, Gores was asked if he at any point doubted the hiring of Van Gundy when the Pistons were at their low point in late December. From Brendan Savage at MLive.com:
"Never," Gores said at halftime of the Pistons' 128-118 victory over Orlando at The Palace. "Never. You got that on the record? Never. We have an amazing guy. I'm so, so proud that we got him here to Detroit.
"There was no trepidation at all."
Gores also hinted at the fact that he was well-aware that the eventual turnaround of the franchise would involve an extended time frame before he hired Van Gundy, and that patience was going to have to be utilized after years of attempted quick fixes from Dumars. From Savage’s interview:
"Even before Stan came on, we talked about the future and building the future," Gores said. "Stan didn't just call me one day and say, 'This is what we have to do.' We had been talking for a few months about how we were going to get this team into the future.
"Josh is a great talent but we had so many other great talents on the team that we really needed the ball being in more hands. So as much as a lot of people think this decision was made overnight, really it was made over a good month and a half.
"We weren't delivering. We weren't winning. It was a process."
The Pistons were stuck at 5-23 on Dec. 22, when they decided to waive Josh Smith. The move was panned by even those who understood that Smith was having a terrible season, and was never going to fit in with this or any future Detroit roster. Why write a check to Smith for $30 million as he takes off for (presumably) greener pastures when you can attempt to trade him for rotation parts, as the Toronto Raptors did last season with Rudy Gay?
Smith’s reputation (not as a person, mind you; the guy is not a locker room cancer) was so shot to bits that dealing him and his contract seemed a rough go even with reported interest from Sacramento (who co-incidentally traded for Gay). And Tom Gores is not writing him a $30 million check to rock off elsewhere – he’ll pay him the yearly amounts that Smith was already set to make in guaranteed money from the Pistons, minus whatever money Smith makes from which team(s) he signs with.
Of course, it’s easy to point out that your commitment to Van Gundy is unwavering when you’re in the midst of a 12-3 streak and blowing out the Orlando Magic at home. Would Gores have offered up the same quote had the Pistons continued their late December winning percentage into late January, working with an 8-35 record?
We kind of think he would.
Gores and Dumars took chances on a win-now team featuring parts that did intrigue a whole lot of us in the summer of 2013. It clearly didn’t work with Smith, whose record as a player in Detroit was 30-50. One could attempt to write off a Piston team losing 80 percent of its games as an underachiever, but in reality this is just how that roster acted with Josh on board, for reasons both tangible and intangible.
Van Gundy and Gores didn’t exactly like the bad start, but in a lot of ways we should have expected it. That still didn’t stop the owner and president from colluding to shock the NBA with their waiving of Smith, using the stretch provision.
"Stan and I, fortunately for both of us, we've had such a great chemistry and communication with each other since he's come on board, really from our first meeting," Gores said. "Stan is a very thorough guy ... for me, what was comfortable was knowing Stan is such a good coach, and with him, if we're 5-23, which we were, something's not right.
"It's not just making a rotation change. I know he was working as hard as possible ... it was very collaborative with each other, like I would do with a CEO. I really challenged Stan to think creatively."
That’s a good owner. Stan Van Gundy is not a 5-23-type of coach, so it must be his rotation that is doing the “5-23” for him.
What we need to figure out from here is if Stan Van Gundy is a 5-23-type of president.
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Detroit has a very good general manager in place in Jeff Bower, but Van Gundy will be making all the final personnel decisions with his players. He was criticized over the summer for both failing to come to terms with restricted free agent Greg Monroe, who is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer as a result, and for coming to too-comfy terms (three years, $18.8 million) with shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Both criticisms had their merits.
Monroe is thriving with Smith gone, though, and Meeks’ return from injury coincided with the Smith departure to add a needed double-figure scorer off of Detroit’s bench just in time for this run. In spite of the hole they dug to start the season, the Pistons are just a game and a half in back of a Brooklyn Nets team for the final playoff spot out East. And the Nets will trade you any number of their billionaire players for whatever you have left in that months-old Halloween bowl of candy.
Gores knows that president Stan Van Gundy’s best move, so far, was to hire Stan Van Gundy as coach. And that when you give both Stan Van Gundy the coach and Stan Van Gundy the president a roster like this, you’re going to have to give Stan Van Gundy some time to work things out.
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