Marcin Gortat led everybody with 31 points and 16 rebounds in a potential elimination game Tuesday, helping the Washington Wizards live another day with a 102-79 win against the Indiana Pacers. Still trailing the series 3-2, the Wizards survived to earn a trip home to the nation's capital, where they'll host the Pacers in another must-win game Thursday.
Why am I talking about Gortat and the Wizards on a Pistons blog? Because the Pistons are about to hire the man Gortat has dubbed "the godfather of my career," and one of the recurring narratives of Stan Van Gundy's career is that he wins games but eventually loses the locker room.
"Van Gundy has a .641 winning percentage in the NBA, and while he’s coached [Dwight] Howard and Shaquille O’Neal to success, his grating style led both to want him out," writes Vincent Goodwill in the Detroit News. "In Detroit, he would have the task of helping mold Andre Drummond into a franchise center, and if hired, Pistons fans will have to hope he doesn’t have the same negative effect on Drummond."
But is this fair? Van Gundy may be a demanding coach, but O'Neal (never one to avoid a feud) needed one late in his career, reporting to training camps overweight and coasting through entire seasons. As for Howard, history has proven he's a bit of flake, and the way he lobbed insults at his former teammates after being dealt suggests it was the player who lost the locker room in Orlando, not the coach.
Regardless what happened, it didn't take long for Howard and Van Gundy to make amends: Howard revealed at training camp last October that it was his former coach who advised him to sign with the Rockets.
“From a guy who has coached me and he understands situations that are going to make me thrive,” Howard told the Houston Chronicle. “He knows me best. We were together for five years. We had great years together, great runs in the playoffs so he understands what it would take to win. Stan is a guru when it comes to studying basketball. Getting advice from him has always been beneficial to me.”
Bringing this full circle, count Gortat (a pet favorite among longtime DBB readers) among the players who credit Van Gundy for advancing his career. Here's an excerpt from an interview Gortat gave SBNation.com's James Herbert this past November:
SBNation.com: You've said you were "spoiled" by success in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy -- is that the kind of thing you can't properly appreciate until later?
Gortat: Of course. I mean, I never understood what it means until the point where you actually start losing games. And now you understand what the guy was trying to say. It was a great moment, it was a great time for me in Orlando and hopefully one day I'm going to have an opportunity to be on a team like that again.
SBNation.com: How important was Stan for you?
Gortat: He was a godfather of my career. He basically taught me everything. He gave me the discipline, he told me the most important things in basketball. He taught me what to do, how to act and how to prepare yourself for the game. He taught me basically everything about the game, this guy is always going to be the guy that I'm going to always appreciate for everything he did for me. If one day he's going to be back in the league, I would like to play for him.
Van Gundy coached Gortat for his first three and a half seasons in the league, from his rookie year in 2007-08 until early in the 2010-11 season when he was dealt to the Phoenix Suns. And who knows, maybe Gortat will get his wish in Detroit: he's an unrestricted free agent this summer. (I mean, I'm just saying -- I swear I'm really not trying to stir up some more "what does this mean for Greg Monroe?" talks in the comments.)
Now your thoughts. Are you worried players may eventually tune out Van Gundy's style, or will he instill some much-needed discipline, leveraging his job security and front office control to force players to fall in line?