Looking at how Detroit will fare with Stan Van Gundy in charge with Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys.
Aside from his immaculate mustache and illusive smile, Stan Van Gundy looks seemingly average. His NBA coaching career is anything but however, with eight seasons spread between Miami and Orlando and not one losing season. His demeanor and personality are polarizing, and when he does smile, it makes for priceless photos at Tex-Mex chain restaurants.
We love to throw around the term, “the NBA is better when” phrase too often, but the league is truly more enjoyable to cover when Stan Van Gundy is coaching. He’s strung together dangerous rosters over the years, and the only knock against him is falling short of winning a ring.
What I remember most about Van Gundy were the years in Orlando before Dwight Howard permanently destroyed every good relationship he had with the organization. It was a time of fun and innocence, the Magic were one of the stronger teams in the East, Jameer Nelson was an All-Star, and Dwight had the greatest SVG impersonations of all time (see here as well). It’s a bit tragic to re-watch those, knowing what appeared as one of the best coach/player relationships of that time would end up like this. But even at the end, Van Gundy’s candidness made for great television.
It has been two years since Orlando fired Van Gundy, and his return to the NBA has always felt like a when rather than an if. On Wednesday, Stan made his official return, agreeing to a five year, $35 million deal with the Detroit Pistons to act as both head coach and president of basketball operations. It essentially gives Van Gundy complete control, something the Warriors weren’t prepared to do, but Detroit, desperate to climb out of purgatory, are putting their faith in his expertise. While the move almost guarantees an interesting and busy offseason for the Pistons, it begs a few questions worth exploring. With input from Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys, here are some burning questions for Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit Pistons.
Should the Pistons have given SVG complete control?
On one hand, I like when positions like head coach, general manager, and head of basketball operations are held by different people. Organizations seem to run better when like minds can engage with one another to achieve collective goals. Give one person too much control, and things could get out of hand. Larry Brown was given similar control while coaching Charlotte, and he demanded DJ Augustin over Brook Lopez, assembled a roster of aging vets and bad contracts, and was run out after the organization was done putting up with him (and of course, the roster he assembled had to be blown up, which then resulted in two of the worst consecutive years of professional basketball by one team ever). So yes, things can go wrong when you give a coach too much control.
But Stan Van Gundy is not Larry Brown. His style of play does not mean signing or trading for players regardless of age or contract. Orlando’s reign in the East lasted for five years, with four 50+ win seasons in a row that probably would have been five if not for the shortened lock out year. Van Gundy seems to understand how to sustain a strong team when he assembles a roster fit to his style of play. Doing the same in Detroit will be key, but more on that later.
Instinctually, I am against having one person in charge of personnel and coaching responsibilities. The minor issue is that there is an inherent conflict of interest and it almost serves to double down on any mistake because of a lack of checks and balances. The more substantive issue is that the job is simply too immense for one person, but teams with top-level coaches that have these personnel responsibilities (San Antonio, Los Angeles Clippers) have gotten better at realizing that and prioritize the need for a quality executive to serve as the right-hand man to handle scouting, cap management and analytics issues.
In a perfect world, the Pistons would hire a great GM and that GM would find a great coach and everything would work out wonderfully. Realistically, however, the team simply couldn’t get a coach the caliber of Stan Van Gundy (and I do love him as a coach) without enticing him with more expansive team control. So I’m willing to accept that and hope he and the team still prioritizes finding a quality GM to serve alongside him.
Does the current roster fit SVG’s style of play?
If we assume he continues with the four-out, one-in style of play, the roster does not fit at all. Detroit ranked second to last in three-point shooting at 32 percent, with only Jonas Jerebko shooting above 40 percent (taking a whopping 1.2 attempts per game). In contrast, the 08-09 finals reaching Magic shot 38 percent from three, with Jameer Nelson shooting a ridiculous 45 percent. Josh Smith proved this year he is not effective as an outside shooter, and Greg Monroe plays primarily from the block. If Stan wants to emulate that Magic team, he’ll likely have to overhaul the roster, and that’ll be too drastic a change to warrant good results. Milwaukee tried a roster overhaul last offseason, and it turned out horribly.
If Stan does go with a system similar to that in Detroit, the one piece he does have is the star center. Andre Drummond is the defensive big required to make things run, and if Stan can have a similar impact on Drummond’s career that he did on Dwight’s, the Pistons have to be excited about Drummond’s future.
The current roster is most definitely not suited for the four-out, one-in style of play. The team as a whole was dreadful from the perimeter last season and its second-best player Greg Monroe does not have a perimeter shot, preferring to work for buckets inside. The good news is that there is enough flexibility built into the roster so that Van Gundy can shape it to how he sees fit. He has his franchise building block in Andre Drummond, a decent amount of cap room this offseason, he has Greg Monroe as a restricted free agent who he can either re-sign or flip in a sign-and-trade for pieces that he wants and he has only one truly albatross contract in Josh Smith who is coming off of his worst season. If the team moves Monroe for perimeter pieces then Smith is the power forward you probably live with or if the team keeps Monroe they can probably flip him to a team that needs to boost its defense with an athletic power forward and can get him for 20 cents on the dollar.
But I’d caution against an immediate assumption that SVG will definitely surround Drummond with four perimeter threats just because that’s what he did in Orlando. Because it’s certainly not what he did while with the Miami Heat. I think there is just as much likelihood that he’d build a system around his existing talent as there is that he’d try and replicate his success in Orlando with Drummond as his Dwight Howard clone.
Does SVG’s hire change the futures of Josh Smith and Greg Monroe?
Regardless of who Detroit hired, the team would’ve looked to move Josh Smith if a deal came along. I don’t see any such deal happening, but then crazier trades have happened. If Smith does stick around, I’d be interested to see if Van Gundy can get him to shoot effectively. If Rick Carlisle could get Monta Ellis to shoot effectively anything is possible.
Monroe is a different case. He’s undoubtedly talented, but rumors are already surfacing that Detroit might let Monroe leave in free agency. Because Van Gundy has control, whatever comes of Monroe will be his decision. With Monroe, Smith, and Drummond on the team, someone will be the odd man out, as it was clear the three did not fit on the court together. The easiest to move is Monroe, so it’ll be interesting to see how SVG approaches it.
If I had to guess I’d still assume that the team will attempt to move Josh Smith in the offseason. He played spectacularly awful basketball but it has always been apparent where his strengths (and more importantly his weaknesses) lie. I always thought it would take a top-5 coach to coax the best out of Smith and get him to ditch the jump shots and give him a mandate to attack the rim. That being said, those issues have been known for Smith’s entire career and he rarely plays within himself.
Moose is a more difficult issue. He’s very gifted but about to get very expensive. I have no idea how he sees Monroe fitting in going forward, but I do at least have confidence that Van Gundy knows his value and knows what he’d need to get in return if he was going to sign-and-trade Monroe to another organization.
Who does SVG hire as GM?
Its early to really know who he’ll look to hire, but it’ll be important the GM understands the style of play Van Gundy wants to run and looks for players that fit the system. I do think the GM will be a relatively unknown, or one in his first stint as general manager. If Stan is in control, he won’t want to hire a GM that had a lot of power in his previous stint(s) (so no David Kahn, for that reason and other obvious ones). Because I’m a sucker for collaboration (I mean, just look at this article), it would be ideal if the hired GM works with Stan rather than for. For all Jurgen Klinsmann did for Germany in the ’06 World Cup (yes I’m making a soccer reference) he couldn’t have done it without Joachim Löw. So find your “Jogi” Stan Van (I’ll see myself out).
The first word about a potential GM has been Otis Smith, which, just, no, absolutely not. Detroit Piston fans have plenty of experience with a guy in Joe Dumars who couldn’t properly assess the value of his players and gave out ridiculously bloated contracts to the likes of Smith, Brandon Jennings, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, etc. Well, Smith has all those flaws and he is also not nearly the assessor of the draft the Dumars proves to be.
Considering the team now has a coach, a face of the franchise and someone who can dictate the strategic path of the organization in Stan Van Gundy, I personally hope they explore potential GMs who can execute that vision and that means a priority on cap management and advanced analytics. In other words, the polar opposite of Smith.